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Antlion Anecdotes

Fascination with antlions is a world-wide phenomenon. Many of us first learn about antlions as children, and our memories of these mysterious creatures are usually indelible.

The stories we tell as adults often recall these childhood memories, and many have clearly identifiable themes of innocence, discovery, and even morality. Whether we simply observed antlions in the wild or took them home to keep as pets, we learned a variety of ways to interact with other animals—ranging from caring and dependence to cruelty and torture. These youthful experimentations with antlions, then, may serve not only as lessons in life sciences, but also as factors in the awakening of a young person's moral sensibility.

Here's a collection of several personal "antlion anecdotes" received from readers from around the world. Countries include Antigua and Barbuda, Australia, Belize, China, Costa Rica, Germany, Greece, Indonesia, Malaysia, Pakistan, South Africa, and the United States. (If you have a personal story or childhood memory you would like to contribute to The Antlion Pit, send it to the editor.)



Mountain Sanctuary Park, near Magaliesburg
South Africa

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My dad and I always used to look for antlions. He and his friends used to keep them as pets, but sometimes if they found two they would make them fight (to the death). I always prefered the idea of feeding them, though.

One weekend I went camping with my dad and brother and, to my surprise and amazement, there it was: a pit about as wide as my finger. We stopped and dug it up to find the antlion . . . dead. So we kept walking and found another pit, smaller this time, only a couple of steps away. So I dug it up and found the antlion dead again! But this time I wanted to keep it so I put it in my hat for the journey back to our campsite when, to my utter amazement, the li'l guy started walking around. When we got back to camp we put it in a jar of sand and watched it "vibrate" into the sand backwards.

The next day my cousin wanted one too. He wanted to name it "Shaka" so we went on the same path and found three antlions! I got one and he got two and to this day I wish that antlions lived in my area (Johannesburg, South Africa). Calum Bennie, 14 May 2012

Reisterstown, Maryland
USA

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I was born and raised in the country-scape of Baltimore County, Maryland. I never saw a real antlion until I was 21 when I moved to Salt Lake City, Utah, and some years later to Boulder, Colorado. I used to sit under the cedars and try to coax them out of their cone shaped holes with ants I would catch or pine needles. Silly to onlookers I am sure, a grown man staring at the dirt, infatuated with a new discovery. I have since relocated back to Baltimore County and this year decided to lay down some oak hardwood mulch (imported from West Virginia) and to my surprise I now have antlions in my flower bed. It started as just two holes and within a couple weeks there are now nearly 20. Well, now I get to educate my niece and nephew and watch as they try to coax them out of their holes. Fun. Chris Petry, 8 May 2012

Cornelius, North Carolina
USA

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We saw antlion pits [in the sand] underneath our porch. While playing in the yard we saw antlion pits and saw two dead bugs in one of them. S., 29 April 2012

Rehoboth Beach, Delaware
USA

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I spotted one [of these insects] crawling under a thin layer of sand, so I poked the movement with a stick, and the larva popped out. I called it a "doodlebug," since it was making a doodling pattern. Turns out, that's what they happen to be called. Erin, 24 October 2011

Long Island, New York
USA

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I found a bunch of antlion pits (and an antlion) in the sawdust of black carpenter ants at the base of a black cherry tree (If I remember right) in the woods of Long Island (Nassau Co., New York) this last summer. Norm Trigoboff, 20 October 2011

Longview, Texas
USA

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As a kid I used to coax the antlion—or "doodlebug" as I have always called it—out of its hole and put it in a box with sand and watch it bury itself back into the sand. I am now 52 years old and recently coaxed one out of its home and showed it to my grand kids. James Plumley, 22 August 2011

Palakkad, Kerala
India

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I live in southern India and I'm happy to contribute a name for the antlion larva in my native language, Malayalam. Malayalam is spoken chiefly in Kerala, as well as some other regions of India where people from Kerala have settled. Our name for the intriguing antlion larva is "Kuzhi-aana". The English translation is "pit-elephant". Bijoy Venugopal, 13 December 2010

Soddy-Daisy, Tennessee,
USA

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The pit-digging antlion is abundant here in Middle Valley and Soddy-Daisy. I have not seen the other varieties as far as I can recall but I am sure they are hidden away somewhere, in some unexplored forest or field. They're awesome to raise and, quite frankly, the best pet.

With all of the prime conditions (especially the large amount of year-round food) and the untouched area that I live in, I would bet money that we could possibly have a unique antlion strain in the valleys and hills between Soddy-Daisy and Middle Valley. Chris Reagan, 6 October 2010

near Martinsville, Indiana,
USA

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A very fascinating critter—I only wish they could be trained to seek out and surround ant colonies. It's expensive to keep ants and termites away from a log cabin.

My childhood memory of antlions started this summer (2010). I've never seen, or noticed, them before, and I'm a 60-year-old kid. M.S., 19 August 2010

Texas
USA

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My mother remembers this variation of the doodlebug rhyme from her childhood:

"Doodybug, doodybug, your house on fire.
Gimme cup of water an' I'll put it out!"

She learned the rhyme during the 1960s in Texas in an all-black neighborhood. L.W., 11 April 2010

Charlie, Texas
USA

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"Doodlebugs" are found in dry sandy or dusty areas usually under farm equipment sheds here in North Central Texas. Richard Fleming, 28 February 2010

Lexington, North Carolina
USA

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I still enjoy collecting antlions. I collected five for the season today. One is huge but I usually get the tiny ones first then watch them grow. M., 18 April 2009

Lattimore, North Carolina,
USA

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While I was visiting my parents (aged 82 and 86) they talked about their memories of the doodlebug chant:

"Doodlebug, doodlebug, come out of your hole.
I'll give you ten dollars and a bag of gold"

I guess that is the Lattimore rendition. I actually saw some holes this summer. Libby Sarazen, 22 December 2008

Lima, Pennsylvania,
USA

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My first antlions were at the Tyler Arboretum in Lima, Pennsylvania, when I was chief naturalist in the late 1970s. There was a pit in the sandy soil just outside my office door in the old stone barn. I would occasionally try to fool the antlion with a blade of grass to get it to toss some sand up from the bottom. Fred C. Arnold, 10 December 2008

Bellaire, Texas,
USA

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My son Julian absolutely loves antlions. We go on ant gathering safaris in Texas, where we live. It's a nice revenge on fire ants. We have eight antlions at home, and all the neighbor kids like to watch at feeding time! Lynn Maxwell Gascoyne, 2 December 2008

Baileys Harbor, Wisconsin,
USA

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I first encountered antlions as a new naturalist at The Ridges Sanctuary in Door County, Wisconsin. On my very first hike I saw these pits along Sandy Trail. When our chief naturalist explained what they were, I immediately became quite enamoured with antlions! I try to find a live antlion to show people on our tours. They're always a big hit! Since they live all over the world, I've added a list of antlion names from other countries to our bulletin board about antlions. Each day I am learning about wondrous things here but I will never forget that first day with antlions! Julie Stratton, 9 June 2008

Jacksonville, Florida,
USA

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My grandmother, from North Carolina, used to move a stick around the rim of the antlion pit and say "Doodlebug, Doodlebug, have some pie." She would repeat this until the bug flicked dirt out. She could then dig him out. I'm not sure why she wanted to dig him out. I saw them in areas of my grandmother's yard that were sheltered from rain, like under the edge of a shed. Will, 21 May 2008

Kijal, Kemaman,
Terengganu,
Malaysia

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So now I know they're called "Antlions." My first encounter with them was when I was 6 year of age. My life was spent mostly roaming around and trying to entertain myself in the days without the net and PSP III. I used to pick antlions out using a hair strand and had loads of fun with them. As finding antlions involves long hours of me lying flat on my tummy on sandy ground under my elevated house , and getting myself dirty, my mom tried to stop me but she failed miserably.

My mom finally managed to find a way to scare me to death of antlions . . . which stopped me from my favourite pastime. She told me a scary story about a Tarzan comic in which he fights a monster antlion. Though Tarzan won, I was certainly not of his stature reasoned my mom. My argument that it was only in a comic was given a sound rebuttal by mom who said everyone has a mother who will look after their young no matter what it takes. That antlion under my house certainly would call for his mother if you refuse to let him go. In Tarzan I saw the antlion consuming a man with a glee, and my mom said, "What makes you think that the one under our house is any smaller?"

I guess I was smart to be able to survive to old age today by not making fun of the little antlion under my house. Must thank mum today. "Clark Gable Of Pulau Duyong," 27 November 2007

Greece
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I was camping on the west coast of Greece about ten years ago. Awakening on the beach one morning I rolled over, opened my eyes, and saw a cockroach running around in a sandy footprint. Suddenly a large antlion larva emerged from under the sand and chased the cockroach around, gnashing its huge mandibles. The antlion caught the cockroach and pulled it under the sand.

In the same area I found dried-out ants that had all their legs pulled back over their bodies. Watching carefully I finally noticed a pair of jaws grab an ant from under the thorax and pull it straight under, forcing all its legs to trail behind it. Mystery solved. These antlion larvae don't bother making pits—they just hang out in the sand and grab things as they walk by. Martin Adams, 29 July 2006

Wimberley, Texas,
USA

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"Doodlebug, doodlebug, your house is on fire! Come out! Come out! Wherever you are!" Those were the words my sisters and cousins and I used to say as we took a small, thin stick and barely made a circle in the upside down cone of soft, very fine dust, called the "doodlebug hole." We were rewarded by a soft, gentle, little bug coming to the surface where we could pick him up and put him in the palms of our hands. The doodlebugs were so small and gentle and soft they were wonderful to hold. We would carefully put them back and dust would fly as they dug back into their little home and remained unseen.

We spent many moments discovering the outdoors in the 1950s, learning which animals were safe and which ones were not safe in Wimberley, Texas. We learned to obey and then were able to have responsibilities and special priveleges as we grew up. This is a special site that lets us see all around the world children share the same universal wonder at discovering little "antlions." E.C. Morris Chinetti, 28 July 2006

El Cajon, California,
USA

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When I was a young girl about 6 or 7 years old, we lived in El Cajon, California. We called these interesting little creatures "toritos" (little bulls). We would also find them when we would visit our grandparents in a small town near Ensenada in Baja California, Mexico. My two brothers and I would spend hours watching and playing with them. I like the way the toritos tickled the palm of my hand when they would try to bury themselves in my hand.

I am now 47 and live in Chula Vista, California. I have been unsuccessful in finding any toritos here. I never knew until now that they are in the larvae stage. I felt very exited when I found this site. Pleasant memories of my childhood flooded my mind. I am more determined to find some and share them with my kids. Thank you. J.M., 20 July 2006

Austin, Texas,
USA

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Thanks for the cool website. I just moved to Austin, Texas. In my new backyard under the roof of an old shack I saw dozens of funnels in the sand. Big funnels, small ones. . . so many! I knew about antlions but coming from the Northeast I was surprised to actually see them. I wasn't sure if they actually were antlions at first, until I saw them flicking up sand. There are so many ants and so many antlions that I have to wait only a minute or two to see a capture. These are very interesting insects. Matthew, 18 July 2006

Wheaton, Illinois,
USA

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I recall my third grade teacher, Mrs. Samples, bringing into class a shoebox containing sand and antlions. She told us a bit about them and, while I'm not sure what she said, it was enough for me to immediately recognize them as an adult. I enjoy teaching friends about them when we see them together and, of course, I occasionally like to feed them an ant. I also have seen them in Missouri, Kentucky, and Tennessee. Lisa Pellegrin, 17 June 2006

Bastrop, Texas,
USA

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As a kid I used to always play with [antlions] and poke a twig down the center of the home to see how big was the doodlebug. I have seen them all around this area (Lavaca, Fayette, and Bastrop counties). Vernon Berger, 27 April 2006

Kuala Terengganu,
Terengganu,
Malaysia

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The antlion is known as cecurut in Malay. I grew up on the East coast of Peninsular Malaysia in the state of Terengganu, where the name was corrupted to Cik Ru ("Miss Ru"). We used to fish antlions out of the sand with a strand of hair. Awang Goneng, 6 December 2005

Awang writes about Cik Ru on his blog "Kecek-Kecek: On Trengganuspeak and the Spirit of Trengganu."

Rockbridge County, Virginia,
USA

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When I was a child my mom taught me how to "doodle" a doodlebug out of its hole. I was instantly hooked. I knew these insects only as doodlebugs, so imagine my surprise when I found out that they're really antlions! At the time I thought antlions lived only in deserts! Jocelyn Dawn, 11 August 2005

Xiushan, Chongqing,
China

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When I was about five years old I liked to play with mud and dust under the house. One day, I noticed a much older girl from the village across the street playing near my favorite spot. She was poking around with a little stick.

"What are you doing?" I asked.

"Digging up di-gu-niu," she said. Di-gu-niu means "ancient earth cattle" in Mandarin Chinese.

"What for?"

"For my mother. She is very sick with TB. The doctor said we need dried di-gu-niu for her medicine broth."

So I kneeled down next to her and watched closely. Her digging was more like fishing. She used a thin stick and touched around the fine mud pit very gently. Then, I saw the bug for the first time in my life. What's amazing is that it moves only backward. After she collected enough bugs and left, I took over and fished out several of my own di-gu-niu and placed them on my palm. I liked their gentleness and playfulness very much.

A few months later I learned that her mother died. The event had such a strong impression on me that, to this day, I am still very suspicious about the effectiveness of Chinese traditional medicine. L.C., 26 July 2005

Phoenix, Arizona,
USA

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I grew up in New York City. I always have had a ton of bugs as pets (what better in a place like NYC, eh? An abundance of buggies, and big ones, too) but I had never seen a doodlebug.

Then [my family] moved out to Phoenix, Arizona where we had a sand backyard instead of dirt. Antlion pits were everywhere (as we also had moved into a "nice" ant problem). My mother, who is from the Carolinas [in the southern United States], was amused by this and said when she was a little girl, people would take a stick and stir up the pit while singing a little song:

"Doodlebug, doodlebug, make me a cup of coffee."

And sure enough, the doodlebug would rise to the top, like foam, no doubt annoyed to no end that he had to rebuild his home. Personally, I prefered feeding them.

The antlions are all gone from mom's yard, and I live yardless now, but I look forward to keeping a little "Zen antlion garden" on my desk—right next to the Emperor Scorpion tank. Amarin, 7 November 2004

Bundaberg, Queensland,
Australia

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I live in Bundaberg, Queensland and have a fascination with the activities of the many antlions in my back yard. On many occasions I have observed an antlion killing multiple prey ([a behavior] I have not seen mentioned in any article on the web or in encyclopaedias).

This "multiple killing method" happens only on occasion. If I put at least a dozen small ants (all at the same time) into an antlion pit, at first there is the usual flicking by the antlion, then antlion movement stops and all the ants die within about five seconds. If I follow up with another lot of ants, all those ants will die within a couple of seconds, even though there seems to be no movement by the antlion.

This [process] can be repeated several times and all the ants will quickly die. At first I thought the antlion may have released a methane or other gas which would initially be retained within the pit, but the ants would still die when the pit was virtually non-existent. (The scuffling of all the ants would eventually fill the pit with soil.) [Perhaps] the antlion emits a very fine toxic spray which then sticks to the dirt particles; this could explain why successive numbers of ants will die. Rex Shepherd, 28 August 2004

Princess Anne, Maryland,
USA

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I recall first finding the small pits of the larvae while a boy scout at Camp Baiting Hollow near Riverhead, New York. Lance T. Biechele, 22 August 2004

Las Vegas, Nevada,
USA

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My husband and I were standing outside talking when he looked down at the dirt next to the house and saw a little sand trap. We stood there for a little while putting the ants into the trap, and sure enough, [an antlion larva] was eating them. It was really neat to watch. We also have seen an adult [antlion] around here but mistakenly identified it as a dragonfly. Cari, 18 August 2004

Wheat Ridge, Colorado,
USA

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When I was a boy I remember playing with the antlions in the old schoolyard with my good friends. We coaxed them out of their pits by blowing into the pits or barely dangling a blade of grass or an old shoelace in the holes. We sometimes pretended that we were hunters and we had contests to see who could catch the most. [I remember this antlion rhyme] passed down in my family from my father's father's father:

"Antlion, antlion, catch the blade of grass
Antlion, antlion, when fun things are happening
quickly time will pass."

Back then, we had no idea that antlions could metamorphose and when mine changed I had no clue what had happened to my antlion but coincidentally that day we were assigned a report on a kind of insect that we got to choose. In those days there were no such things as computers but now I am glad that I can find out so much more about the insects of my past. This I will share with my children and grandchildren so they can have the magical experience of the antlion. Henry Bradford, 13 October 2003

Warfield, Virginia,
USA

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As a now 50-year-old native of Virginia, I can remember chanting the "doodlebug song" when my siblings and I were young. Our mother had taught us to take a slender stick and, while twirling it around in the doodlebug's hole, say:

"Doodlebug, doodlebug, come out your house
Your house is on fire, your children are all gone
Doodlebug, doodlebug, come out your house."

We of course thought it exciting to always see the doodlebug. I have shown my daughter this "entertaining skill." I ran across this website while searching for a review of John Steinbeck's The Pearl. My daughter read the book as required summer reading and had to give a review but was unsure of the story's theme. J.F., 26 August 2003

Utah,
USA

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We found about 30 antlion pits at the trailhead to Hickman Bridge in Capital Reef National Park, Utah, during Memorial Day weekend. We actually watched a small bug being pulled down under the sand! A.S., 28 May 2003

Sydney,
New South Wales,
Australia

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I was given a "Zen sand garden" for a present last Christmas. It is a polished, black, shallow tray filled with with very fine, uniform white sand, and is meant to give satisfaction and relaxation to the owner [who rakes] the sand into patterns in the style of formal Japanese gardens. Quickly I tired of the effort, then I thought of the geometrically perfect conical holes made by antlions on any loose slope in the bush.

Now I have a self-rejuvenating, redesigning Zen-sand-garden-of-ant-death, which while not exactly serene, has endless abstract patterns I could never create myself. Also the finely grained sand traps ants so well! Chris Phoon, 13 October 2002.

Bogor, Java,
Indonesia

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I am now studying in Bogor Agriculture Institute in the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine. There are a lot of antlion pits in our campus yard. My friends and I love to capture the larvae and put them in a plastic glass. After that I bring them home by train. It's funny because it makes a lot of people in the train ask questions about what I am carrying in the glass. I used to keep them as pets in an open jar. Then after a few weeks I found that there were no more antlions in the jar. [At the time] I didn't know that antlions [go through metamorphosis]. Monique, 27 September 2002

Charlottesville, Virginia,
USA

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This is an awesome site! I live in Central Virginia and we always see (and of course feed) antlions when we go climbing in West Virginia. This site has all the info (and more) that I could ever want. W. F., 1 July 2002.

Laurel, Maryland,
USA

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Not many people in my area are familiar with these creatures. The first antlions I've seen in the wild were actually in my front yard, and what surprised me about that was I thought I was a little too far north to witness them since their habitats tend to be more in the south. (I'm in Laurel Maryland.) The largest [antlion] I've seen is one approximately the size of a human adult thumbnail.

I remember reading about antlions a long time ago when I was younger, and when I tried to look up some more information on them, I stumbled across your site. I'd like to compliment you on having one of the best on-line resources pertaining to these bizarre creatures. Steve Coon, 24 April 2002

North Carolina,
USA

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It was great to see that the antlion song is truly a great Southern tradition. I saw in [this section of the website] versions of the "Run Away Home" chant from Texas and Tennessee, a little different but still basically the same song.

I've written a poem about doodlebugs which I've included in a recent book of poems about growing up in the tobacco belt in North Carolina. Doodlebugs loved the sandy soil found under tobacco sheds, and they would build cones around the foundations of tobacco barns to catch ants and other insects as they walked around the edges of the barns. Chris Creech, 24 January 2002

Read Chris's poem "Doodlebugs." For more information about doodlebug rhymes see the Folklore page.

Bend, Oregon,
USA

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Growing up in Portland, Oregon, we either had no antlions in our soggy soil, or they were not common. It was not until I visited eastern Oregon's high desert that I saw my first adult antlion, under a light at night. I'd been looking for the pits, but was expecting something about the size of a pancake! Ha! The pits are usually no bigger in diameter than a half dollar.

My interest in insects in general has not waned, and I am currently doing research for an article on lacewings, antlions, owlflies, and related creatures for Missouri Conservationist magazine. Thank you for this delightful website. Eric Eaton, 2 January 2001

Laredo, Texas,
USA

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The following anecdote is excerpted from the July 2000 "Reminiscing Room" Web page published by The Laredo Morning Times. This page contains several anecdotes about "toritos," the name given to antlions by Spanish-speaking residents of Laredo, Texas. According to one resident, antlions are called "toritos" ("little bulls") because "the pit they create resembles a bullfight ring, and the torito moves like a bull in a bull ring." [Editor's note: Perhaps another reason for the name is the resemblance between the antlion's jaws and a bull's horns.]

We used to collect toritos from [the dirt] under homes (part of my mom's home [rests on] cement "postas"). [We] placed them on what we called the operation table, [which we] made with wood found around the house. [It was] a rectangle about four feet by six feet, [and we would] place dirt and small plants inside and make room for the toritos. We would collect as many as we could and watch them create the torito home. Then we would get red ants and place them [in the dirt] and they would start to dig. Some would fall into the torito traps. We would watch them fight and fight and fight but the torito always would win. All small insects in the lower food chain were placed in the torito pit. We would spend hours just messing with the torito rectangle until we would go on to other animal hunting. Anonymous, added to The Antlion Pit on 27 October 2001. Originally posted to The Laredo Morning Times on 11 July 2000.

Texas,
USA

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I grew up in South Texas. As children, we tried to catch doodlebugs. We used our fingers or a stick and dug in a round motion to find them. There was a rhyme we would say, but I can't remember all of it. It was something like this:

"Doodlebug, doodlebug, your house is on fire
and your children are alone.
Doodlebug, doodlebug, it's time to come home."

I don't think those are the exact words, but it was something like that. My husband grew up in West Texas and they said the same rhyme. As we are in our 60s, obviously it has been awhile since we said that rhyme.

Just recently, we got rid of a woodpile in our sideyard that had been there for about 20 years. We spread some sandy loam to even the ground, [and later] we found some doodlebug holes there. I guess that is why they appeared.

My own children never saw an antlion, as we have lived on the Guadalupe River in the Hill Country for 32 years. The natural vegetation and soil here don't seem to be a good habitat for antlions. [Now] we want to teach our grandson the rhyme. I hope there is someone out there who remembers it. Sudie Barker, 23 July 2001


Editor's note: for more information about doodlebug rhymes see the Folklore page.

Potchefstroom,
South Africa

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I grew up on a farm near Potchefstroom in South Africa, and all my boyhood friends spoke Tswana (from Bechuanaland originally). "Tok-Tokkie" was their name for the antlion. Sandy McKellar, 3 June 2001

Editor's note: The name "Tok-Tokkie" is the common name for the Psammodes beetles of the order Coleoptera. Perhaps these Tswana speakers used "Tok-Tokkie" as a generic name for all beetles and insects that resemble beetles, such as antlion larvae.

Waco, Texas,
USA

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The first time I saw an antlion I was about 11 years old. My mom said you could catch them by putting your finger in [the pit] and scooping them out. So I tried it out and was not successful the first few times, but to my surprise, I was not going deep enough. I was pretty enthralled when I caught my first Doodlebug. I really love watching the carnage and torture when I feed mine (I live in Texas so there's ants like all over the place and they are so annoying!). I am 13 now and have about 12 [antlions] in a nest I made for them. Chace Parker Roach, 24 May 2001

St John's,
Antigua and Barbuda

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Although I'm a professional scientist, I have never seen an adult antlion. I live in Antigua and Barbuda, a small twin-island state in the eastern Caribbean, where these beloved beasties are called "John-pee-pee" or "jam-pee-pee." While we all captured and played with them as children, we were never taught that they were only the larvae. Only a few people would link them with the winged adults.

During a recent field trip of the Environmental Awareness Group, this country's main wildlife club, the hikers encountered a patch of antlion pits. To the amazement of those who had not grown up in Antigua, the locals fell to their knees in delight to chant rhymes and call up the John-pee-pee. Anthony Richards, 29 April 2001

San Bernardino, California,
USA

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I was first introduced to antlions when I was about 11 years old. I found these cones in the soft soil around my house and investigated. The result was keeping them as pets for a while, then releasing them.

Now I am 36 and a Park Ranger for the County of San Bernardino, California. The antlions I have seen in our park have been in soft soil (almost dust-like, but not sand) around the base of silk oak trees (Grevillea robusta). I have found most of their cones in the path of an ant hill. I don't know what kind of ants, but they are red with a black abdomen, about one or two millimeters in length. While trying to capture the antlion I discovered carcasses of several small beetles in the soil that formed the cone.

Recently I brought home an antlion for my five-year-old daughter so she too could witness the phenomenal display of this insect. The first thing she asked me was, How long does it remain in its larval stage? I could not answer her question and told her that unless we can get them in the egg form we may never know because I doubt if any intense studies have been conducted. Wrong I was—I found this website with so much more information than I could find in my field ID books. Thank you. A. J. Gerber, 20 September 2000

Tübingen,
Germany

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After moving into our new apartment I found weird pits in the balcony flowerbeds. I thought the people who lived there before us strange to dig little holes into the soil and showed the pits to my husband. He remembered from a childhood science book that antlions are the answer to the question. We figured out the connection between ant-pit and lion. My husband caught an ant and dropped it into a pit and we watched in awe the spectacle of the frantic ant who knew it was in danger and the antlion throwing sand on the ant and finally clasping the struggling ant with its huge fangs.

So at the age of 28 I had my first antlion encounter. Hardly any of our friends and family had heard of them. Wanting to know more about these animals we found out that antlions turn into a sort of dragonfly which in Germany (where we live) is an endangered species. So we took good care of them until one day, the pits were gone. I was a little sad that our housepets had flown away but very happy to find ten new pits in our garden a couple of weeks later! It takes a while to catch ants for them but it's worth it. U. S., 14 August 2000

Louisville, Colorado,
USA

.

There was a time between second and third grade when all of my childhood friends and I discovered antlions and performed all of the experiments and played all of the games described [by others on this page]. We had mason jars where we kept our "pets," sometimes three or four at a time. We gave them names and compared which ones dug the deepest and widest pits, which ones ate the most ants, etc. It was a great time of discovery and awakening to the world outside of our homes and families. It is amazing to me that so many other people in so many other places have had similar experiences.

Recently (at 31 years of age), I have been reminded of this near-forgotten era on two separate occasions. Having just bought a house, I was walking around the sides, taking stock of which trees and shrubs should stay, and which ones were going to have to go, when I found about seven pits at the base of a large locust tree growing too close to the foundation. I took care to leave them to their own devices. Two days later, I was reading out of Tom Sawyer with one of my students. In chapter eight, Tom requests help from a doodlebug when one of his marble-finding-spells comes up wanting. His conclusion, after the bug darts back into the bottom of his pit, is that a witch must be active in the area, spoiling all of his magic.

It is a funny scene, but if you do not know what an antlion is, it makes no sense. My student (and his parents, as well) had never even heard of these fantastic little bugs. We promptly took a field trip to go and find some pits. Today, I'll be returning to do some more tutoring, and we'll start out by making a good home for a doodlebug and capturing one for observation. I'll try to focus on the educational aspect of the exercise, but for me, it will be a good excuse to re-live some of those exciting days as a grade-schooler. Rich Olson, 5 June 2000

Sinlahekin Valley, Washington,
USA

.

In June 1999 I was collecting spiders in Okanogan County, Washington. On a rocky peninsula jutting between two branches of Sinlahekin Creek, near an old placer [ore] mining operation, there was plenty of bare soil among the ponderosa pines and antlion pits were as numerous there as I've ever seen them in the state. Just for fun, I put an ant in one (probably a Pogonomyrmex sp. [harvester ant]). It was promptly ejected! [That's] a behavior I don't think I [had seen until then]. Rod Crawford, 4 June 2000

Rio Bravo,
Belize

.

On a recent trip to Belize I saw my first antlion. I was at an ancient Mayan site (le Milpa) and while everyone else in my group was staring upward, my gaze was directed to the base of a tree where there were two antlion craters. I plucked an ant off the tree and dropped it in the pit and watched in amazement. I know nothing about Mayan culture still, but my interest in entomology has skyrocketed. Kristen, 10 April 2000

Dallas, Texas,
USA

.

At age 29 (just this year) I had never seen an antlion. Not for lack of trying, though. I had done the cone-stick-poking thing, too, but with no success. Then, this summer, my girlfriend laughed at me for asking what made the cones. (This is the 30 year old that didn't know the moon orbits the earth – not a science freak.) Instantly a 20-year mystery unfolded as the sand fell from her fingers. I thought the thing would claw her for sure!! Sean Griffin, 7 December 1999

Texarkana, Arkansas,
USA

.

My good friend and co-worker for over twenty years, Nelene Harris, uses antlions in her biology class and has shared the activity with me to use in my class. She said her grandmother taught her about doodlebugs. My mother taught me. Our biology students have really enjoyed learning about this insect. And, my little 2-1/2 year old grandson loves it when I recite, "Doodlebug, Doodlebug, your house is on fire! Come out, come out wherever you are!" He swirls his stick around and says it too. Wanda Adcock, 24 September 1999

Jacksonville, Florida,
USA

.

An hour or so ago, I was on my front porch and I had a flashback from childhood. I saw an antlion pit and I had to see if I could tease him to try to come out. I thought I was the only one in the world smart enough to coax them out with pine straw or a branch. After catching him and watching him skitter across my hand, I had to use the internet to find out more about antlions. This led me to this web page, and I am amazed. I remember being in my own little world, thinking I was the best at catching these little guys. It's so good to know that other people share these wonderful memories. J. Messer, 4 September 1999

Lancaster, California,
USA

.

My first experience with antlions was one of complete fascination. While playing as a youth in the California desert, I had to find ways to amuse myself. Many times this involved interacting with new forms of insect life I encountered in the desert. One day, while exploring an area of hard-packed ground, I noticed an area of the ground that had about 1/4 inch of sand over it. There were patterns of what I thought were trails or tracks in the sand that meander across the sand in no particular pattern, only to stop for no reason. When I returned the next day the patterns were different, almost like a strange sand painting, but the creator was nowhere to be found.

One day while examining the trails, I noticed movement at the end of the trail under the sand. I then knew the source of these trails was under the sand. I carefully removed the sand looking for the creature, only to find various sized pebbles. I knew I saw something. . . where did it go? After a while I saw one of the pebbles move. There it was, playing dead and looking like another pebble. I watched it dig back into the sand and continue its trek through the shallow sand until it reached an area of thicker sand. Then it dug in deeper and I lost track of it. But all around this deeper sandy area could be seen what looked like rain-drop splatters in the sand. Since this area was under a tree, I thought the splatters were caused by rain dripping off the tree leaves. But the holes were too perfectly shaped to be drip marks. As I examined them further, I saw the jaws of an insect that looked like the one I examined earlier protruding from the bottom of the hole.

Then it happened: a wandering ant was cruising through the area. I knew how mean ants could be because I had dropped spiders on their ant hill to observe the ravenous behavior of the ant gang. So, I did not want them to hurt my new found friends. I tried to shoo the ant away, only to drive him into another cone-shaped hole. He went into the cone hole and I thought he was going after one of my new friends, but I could see the jaws of the cone-dweller holding onto the ant. Moments later, the cone-dweller dragged the struggling ant under the sand. This was cool.

I took a few of these cone-dwellers home and separated them into different sand-filled containers. My friends were all amazed with the cone-dwellers predatory actions. I began to read up on these insects and discovered their name: Antlion. I have loved these little bugs ever since. I always care for at least one of these insects today in my home. I am 31 years old and still enjoy watching them. I will often feed them spiders that I find in my home. But, I am always sensitive to their needs. When they cocoon themselves, I will close up the container and provide a stick for the adult to climb on. The day after they emerge as winged adults, I set them free. It's been great fun. My wife now also enjoys them. Ed Marbach, 4 September 1999

Granbury, Texas,
USA

.

My sons and I were painting a friend's house in the heat of the Texas summer. It was 104 degrees and I was not in a jovial or frivolous mood. I looked around and could not find my sons working. This, in combination with the aforementioned heat, had me ready to explode onto some lazy boys when I looked and found them kneeling under a tree house feeding ants to the doodle-bugs. Waves of nostalgia swept over me as I knelt down with my sons and avidly watched that telltale geiser of dirt send another ant to its doom. I decided that life is too short not to take time for doodle-bug watching. Buddy Pedigo, 1 August 1999

Hattiesburg, Mississippi,
USA

.

When I was really young, I would go camping with my family a lot. My grandparents were always there and my grandfather and I would spend much of the camping trips searching for doodlebug holes. When we found the tiny hole in the sandy ground, we would stick small sticks or pine needles into the holes and chant "Doodlebug, Doodlebug! Your house is on fire!" Quite often the doodlebug would latch onto the pine needle or stick and we could snatch it from its hole. As a kid, that was a great pasttime. It is funny that I found this site because just the other day, my boyfriend and I were camping and I was searching for doodlebug holes and he had never heard of the tales about them. S. D., 30 July 1999

Trenton, Florida,
USA

.

I grew up on a small, sandy farm in north Florida in the 1950s, and my sisters and I used to spend hours playing along the edges of the barns and shed, catching "doodlebugs." Reading these stories by others from all over the world brought back these wonderful memories, and makes me think that what today's children need are fewer toys and more doodlebugs. I had completely forgotten the "doodlebug" songs and other fun games we had with them, teasing with pine needles, feeding other beasts to them, all of those good things. Thanks for helping me remember these. D. W., 20 July 1999

Ft. Worth, Texas,
USA

.

About 10 years ago, I really started to love insects of all sorts; as a matter of fact, my nickname in school was "Sam the bug man." I think it was the fact that insects are so easily obtained; it's kinda like a zoo right in your backyard. Living in dry, sandy Texas, I see a plethora of antlions. It is so interesting how extremely unique antlions are. [Next year I'll be a] senior in high school, [and I have been] assigned an art project for this summer. My [project] concentration will be antlions, I think. Sam Kieschnick, 17 July 1999

Houston, Texas,
USA

.

When I was six my Dad showed me an antlion. I was so fascinated with them I thought others would enjoy them too, so I decided to sell them for three dollars apiece! In Houston, Texas, barely anyone had heard of antlions—which made them much easier to sell. I made enough money to buy a Sega Genesis (one of the hottest toys around back then), plus give 10% to charity. They also inspired me to write books about an antlion named Mr. Antlion. I've already written five books and I'm sending my sixth one to a contest to try and get it published. S. C., 26 January 1999

Ashland City, Tennessee,
USA

.

When I was in the 3rd grade at the Possum Trot School, we would spend all recess finding and enticing these little "creatures" out of their homes by bending down close and calling out "Doodlebug Doodlebug your house is on fire, Doodlebug Doodlebug your house is on fire" and blowing lightly on the sandy cone. Finally the bug would come out and we were delighted. I never knew anyone else knew about "Doodlebugs" until [I saw this website] tonight! I also never heard of Antlions. This [website] brought back fun memories from about 1943! Reba J., 4 December 1998

Fort Salonga, New York,
USA

.

In the summer of 1997 I was involved with Marine Science Camp for one month. One day I had to do research on the antlion, which I had never heard of. Antlions are very beautiful creatures, but deadly to any small insect. I was responsible for feeding them ants and changing the sand three to five times a week. It was so interesting [to see] their "ice cream cone" made to catch insects; they seemed very smart. I noticed they were more active during the day than night. I stayed awake all night with night vision [lights] to watch them, but saw no activity.

Maybe in the future, when I have my own house and family, I will get antlions as pets. One day I will show my kids. I forgot to inform you: I am a deaf student of East Islip High School and Cleary School. I am so proud of myself for learning about new creatures. Brian Capano, 14 November 1998

Derry, New Hampshire,
USA

.

At a YMCA in New Hampshire I [saw many antlions] under the drama cabin. The pits are everywhere! Ants would fall in and just get pulled under! C. L., 6 August 1998

Montville, Connecticut,
USA

.

I showed my son-in-law some antlion pits near the front of my house one day, and was amazed that he hadn't a clue as to what they were. Even at twenty-four years old, he was fascinated to see the hapless ants we pushed into the pits disappear beneath the dust. He was equally horrified to see the creature that lurked beneath the pit when I scooped up the pit and sorted the antlion out of the dust and pebbles. I had forgotten for a minute that everyone doesn't have the same interest and respect for insects as I. L. T., 7 July 1998

Pujab,
Pakistan

.

Antlions ["kumhar" in Punjabi] are one of the insects I knew while I was a little kid growing up in the small town of Punjab, Pakistan. I always enjoyed pushing ants into pits and then observing the way antlions capture them. I can still remember that I use to catch an antlion and tie its neck with a fine thread and then use it as bait for catching more antlions. The antlions were then transferred to a new place with loose soil and to observe their method of pit building. Muhammad Iqbal, 7 March 1998

Gulfport, Mississippi,
USA

.

We'd spend our [school recess] time down on hands and knees and gently blowing at the lion lairs, whenever we were on the playground. Another way was to "go fishin'" with a pinestraw. Some were good enough to get the little feller up that way. Being the kind of person I am, the thrill was always in the catch. I don't remember ever killing one, though I'm sure there were some mean kids who did. Mainly, we just kept tabs on how many we'd captured and bragged among ourselves. A lot of coastal Mississippi is sandy soil, and that's why when I was a kid we had a proliferation of the antlions on my elementary school playground in Gulfport. Unfortunately, this is a booming area now, and there are few sandy lots left for the little fellers. Kat Bergeron, 1 December 1997

Chattanooga, Tennessee,
USA

.

I grew up near Chattanooga, Tennessee, and vividly remember enticing antlions (we sometimes called them "sandlions" or "antdevils") from their pits. Our favorite way was to use a broomstraw and "tickle" the edge of the pit. Sometimes the antlion would actually grasp the straw enough so we could pull the antlion completely from its pit. As far as I remember we never harmed one. We thought they were fun and "cute." Thanks for an enjoyable time surfing your pages! Incidentally, my oldest son is a zoologist specializing in bats. Chip Taylor, 20 November 1997

Kloof,
Kwa-zulu Natal,
South Africa

.

My older brother and I used to spend alot of time sitting behind the garage where the sand was ideal for antlions. We would try and catch them by either throwing an ant in their pit, or making the antlion think there was an ant in his pit by shifting the sand around with a stick. We would then dig them up, and keep them in plastic containers filled with sand, feed them ants, and they were our pets. We would mainly feed them termites, other large ants, or even other small insects. I eventually told all my friends about antlions, and there was a time in my life when all my friends had antlions as pets. We never kept them for long, and eventually just tipped out their containers into the garden. Heidi Edelmuller, 31 October 1997

Niles, Michigan,
USA

.

As a child in Michigan, I discovered antlions and enjoyed watching them dig, eat ants (of course) and hide when I tried to uncover them. I thought I was one of the few people on the planet interested in these little bugs. (I also loved to watch ants but have never been successful in keeping ants in a "farm.") Diane Walenga Carr, 20 October 1997

Traverse City, Michigan,
USA

.

There's an old quarry in the hills behind my parents' house. When I was growing up, my friends and I would spend entire afternoons tormenting the colony of antlions that inhabited the sandy area at the top of the quarry. At first we'd delight in tricking the little bugs by using blades of grass to "bait" the 'lions and pull them out of their homes to watch them dig a new one or to see what would happen if we dropped one into another 'lion's trap. (Children are cruel before they learn kindness I guess.)

Eventually we outgrew that and decided to feed our new pets. Woodlice, ants, and small weevils all met their end with our aid. There used to be scores of the conical traps. I've not been there in ages. Your site made me remember them for the first time in years. I think, next spring I'll be taking a hike to see if they're still there. Todd Thomas, 13 October 1997

Fallon, Nevada,
USA

.

I remember playing with antlions when I was a kid, scratching the sides of the pit with a stick, making just enough sand fall down to trick them into flinging some sand. It rarely worked -- they must be pretty smart. Bob Frenchu, 30 September 1997

Gaal, Kelantan,
Malaysia

.

I remember spending many happy afternoons under my grandma's house trying to "blow" this bug out of its hiding place. When the undur-undur [antlion] hid in the sand (I assumed it was hiding, maybe it was it's home), it made a neat indentation—in the shape of an ice-cream cone. Instead of digging into the cone, I would blow the sand around it gently until the undur-undur was exposed. I guess in my mind I was doing a more orderly destruction to this antlion's home. Another favorite pastime was to watch it dig the actual "ice-cream cone." It's funny how simple life used to be. . . Lynn Mohammad, 30 August 1997

Bantul, Yogyakarta,
Central Java,
Indonesia

.

It was a popular local pastime of small children to capture undur-undur and cart them around in tiny bamboo cages (poor critters!). They used to tickle the trap side with a sliver of coconut fibre, calling it their "fishing line," and the antlion would grab onto it and be pulled out and dropped onto the hand. M.L., 29 August 1997

Winchester,
Massachusetts,
USA

.

Antlions were one of the first insects I took notice of as a child in Winchester, Massachusetts. I recall discovering to my delight that the conical pits in profusion along the edge of our house were inhabited. I admit to spending countless hours consigning carpenter ants to their fate, for my amusement. No worse than a Roman Emperor at the Arena, I suppose.

I also recall discovering the metamorphosis process by which a ground-hugging antlion becomes a creature of the air. I had delicately removed an antlion from its pit and transplanted it in a terrarium. One day, after my captive no longer took the ants provided, I found a spherical cocoon in the sand. This I left, puzzled. Days later, I found a (regrettably dead) damselfly-like insect in the tank (it had a cover). Although it took a while before I made the connection, I rank it as my first experience with science through observation. Michael Puttré, 11 June 1997

Perth,
W. Australia,
Australia

.

I can remember when I was a kid growing up in Perth (the capital of Western Australia) collecting antlions as pets and keeping them beside my bed in an old plastic ice-cream container full of sand. I distinctly remember drifting off to sleep to the sound of "scratch, scratch, scratch, CHOOF" as they scored around through the sand. The ones that we used to catch were the ones that made conical-shaped traps to catch unsuspecting ants. Even today, over 20 years later, when I see a bunch of traps in the sand, I scoop one of them up just to see once again these amazing creatures. They bring back such fun memories from my childhood!! I will definitely introduce them to my young boys when the opportunity arises. S.B., 3 June 1997

Zarcero, Alajuela,
Costa Rica

.

Cuando yo era niño, buscábamos los fosos de estos insectos, los soplábamos y sacábamos las larvas. Cuando teníamos dos de ellas, las molestábamos con un pedacito de paja y hacíamos que las dos se pelearan. Evidentemente éramos niños crueles; hoy día no hago ésto y espero que Diós me perdone. Angel Solís, 18 abril 1997

When I was a boy we used to look for the pits of these insects; we would blow on the pits and remove the larvae. Once we had captured two of them, we would poke at them with a piece of straw to make them fight each other. Evidently we were cruel kids; I don't do that anymore and I hope God will forgive me. Angel Solís, 18 April 1997

See Angel's entomology website: Las familias de insectos de Costa Rica (in Spanish), which includes a section on antlions: Familia Myrmeleonidae (Hormigas león).

Ft. Worth, Texas,
USA

.

We had several pits in my flower bed last summer and every time my 5-1/2 year old granddaughter Melissa came over she wanted to help me feed the antlions. She loves anything to do with nature and wants to be a veterinarian. Alice Bryson, 3 April 1997

California and Utah,
USA

.

I always played with antlions as a kid in California's Sierra Nevada and now I show my kids antlions in the Utah Canyonlands. Ray Rasmussen, 2 April 1997

See Ray's excellent ecology websites: Visiting Canyon Country, Utah and
Alberta's Endangered Species.



Do you have a personal story or childhood memory you would like to contribute to The Antlion Pit? Send it to the editor via the contribution form.

Related topics in The Antlion Pit

Related websites

  • Doodle Bugs (Public Library of Charlotte and Mecklenburg County, North Carolina.) An excerpt from Rose Leary Love's memoir Plum Thickets & Field Daisies.
  • Insects.org (Dexter Sear, USA). This elegantly-designed insect reference site is also home to the Cultural Entomology Digest, the definitive resource for studying the influence of insects on human culture as seen in myth, psychology and art.

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