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Are you ready to find out what the mystery insect was in last week's post?

ant lion pit

Most of you probably noticed the two circular depressions. The creature at the bottom of those funnel-shaped pits is the larval stage of the ant lion, also called a doodlebug. Ant lions are found in warm areas throughout the world, including Florida and the southwestern United States.

If you were to dig out the bottom of the pit, you would find the ant lion larva, which looks a bit like a lacewing larva and the two are related. Here's a photo of an ant lion larva from Iowa State University. Some species have even longer jaws.

The ant lion larva digs a pit in loose dirt or sand near ant colonies. They spiral around and around from the surface down to the lowest point, creating a steep and slippery slope. The ant lion prefers to dig in areas with fine sand, and maintains the pit by throwing out any pebbles or bits of plant that might fall in.

When an ant or other small insect falls into the pit, the larva flicks sand at it to knock it towards the bottom. Once the ant is within reach, the larva grabs it and drags it under the sand and eats it. Don’t feel too bad though, many times the ant is able to scramble out of the pit unharmed and the ant lion often goes hungry.

When the larva attains its full size, it pupates. The pupa is round and covered with a layer of silk and sand, similar to that of the lacewing. The adult ant lion emerges from the sand. It is slender with wings with many veins that fold back over its body when it is at rest. The adult might be mistaken for a damselfly or dragonfly. Firefly Forest has a fantastic photograph of an adult ant lion, go on over and take a look.

Have you ever seen an ant lion?

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ants

This week my son decided to feed the tiny ants that live in our backyard. He gave them some droplets of honey.

ants feeding on honey

These ants are sitting on the surface of a plastic flower pot. It was amazing how fast the ants found the droplets.

Watching ants can be an absorbing activity. My son noticed that the rear part of the ants, which is technically called the gaster, became swollen and had a banded appearance as the ants filled up (you might be able to see this in the top photo). The ants store liquid food in a special internal pouch inside the gaster called a crop, and as the crop fills the gaster swells. He could tell how recently an ant had arrived by how the gaster looked.

Have you ever observed ants? If not, you should give it a try.

The name says it all for this insect. It is the yellow-bellied bee assassin bug (Apiomerus flaviventris). This species seems to be found most commonly in Arizona. It waits for bees to land on flowers and then grabs them.

yellow bellied bee assassin bug

Colorful isn't it?  Thanks to Deb for suggesting the trip to the garden where we saw this.