Miracles of Weird: The Antlion
By Lenny Pierce on May 23, 2014
Range: Arid, sandy locals across the world
Weird Feature(s): Super mandibles, death pits
Of all the Star Wars monsters, the sarlacc is probably the last thing we would want an earthly equivalent of, but the larval phase of the antlion is close enough (minus the tentacles). Being a few thousand times its size, us humans are not in danger. Ants, on the other hand, are seriously screwed should they trip into the death pits antlions build for them.
When the antlion has found a suitably sandy spot, it begins to circle around backwards and uses its massive mandibles to fling sand skyward. Once it has made a concave cone 2-inches across and deep, it wriggles its entire body into the base of the pit, leaving only its jaws exposed. When an unfortunate ant (or similarly sized bug) slips into the pit, it tumbles down into the hungry jaws of the antlion. And once the antlion has a bug in its grip, hollow mandibles inject venom into the victim, making it more digestible.
If a bug does somehow manage to avoid the jaws and try to clamber up the sides of the pit, the antlion will fling sand above it, making it virtually impossible for the bug to gain footing. Flinging sand is the antlion’s equivalent of sending tentacles at Lando Calrissian.
“Antlion” is a properly intimidating name for these creatures, but their alternate name, “doodlebug,” is not. That name comes from the winding trails the animals leave in the sand as they are scouting out spots for their next death pit. When antlions scuttle about, whole areas can wind up looking like zen gardens.
The antlion’s beastly behavior only represents one stage of this critter’s life. After a period of bug trapping, the antlion buries itself in a sandy cocoon for a month and then emerges as a long-bodied fly.