An Ant Lion is not some strange Sci-Fi creature or the newest Marvel character but a super beneficial bug that naturally controls ants.
Ant Lions, also known as doodle bugs in the US because they make markings like a distracted artist, are a group of insects in the Order Neuroptera – translated as “nerve wings.” They are part of the Family Myrmeleontidae, which is of Greek origin myrmex (ant) and leon (lion). You know you have Ant Lions when you see these upside down cones in the dirt or sand. These are actually traps that the (predatory) larvae set so that they can eat the ants, and other bugs or spiders, when they fall in.
The larva looks like something you would see in Star Trek The Wrath of Khan or The Mummy movies, it grows to approximately an inch long and it’s head bears a very impressive and sizeable pair of sickle-like jaws (mandible) that have numerous sharp, hallow projections. In fact, their mandible is so large that it makes walking difficult and so they will typically walk backwards. They seize their prey by injecting poison that paralyzes it. Additional digestive enzymes are injected to break down internal tissue of its prey. It then sucks the liquefied contents of it’s preys body and then flicks it out of the pit. The larva then repairs the pit and waits for it’s next victim.
Ant Lion larvae eventually pupate in the soil. As scary as their adolescent stage appears, the adult resembles a dragonfly or damselfly except the Ant Lion folds it’s wings back in a tent-like fashion. They also have longer, prominent, clubbed antennae and different type of wing venation. Adults are rarely encountered in the wild as they are nocturnal. They feed on nectar and pollen.
Ant Lions are often included in lists of beneficial insects, no doubt because they prey upon ants, a common pest to humans.
You can find lots of these cone shaped traps in the Deschutes Campground and along the Tam A Lau trail. Also in the Crooked River Day Use Area. You can pretend to be prey by gently dropping a small piece of stick and watch them kick the sand out to knock the prey down into the bottom of the cone. Please be respectful of park wildlife and do not step on or destroy the traps. Ant lions do not typically bite humans but they can if they are scared.