Of ants and ant lions

by Patrick Kavanagh

I well remember the experience of revelation when the copy of “The How and Why Wonder Book of Insects” that I’d received as a hand-me-down explained the mysterious little cones, perfectly formed with grainy sides, in the dirt around our yard and in the bush. They were the traps of Ant Lion larvae. The book described how an ant would slide into the trap and be eaten by the larva below. I was not beyond guiding an ant to such a fate and watching with fascination as the Ant Lion concealed in dirt at the bottom of the pit would flick dirt on the ant to help it slide into its pincers. I gently blew away the dirt to see the strange animal that is an Ant Lion larva. In 2014, I broke my own rules of not disturbing my insect subjects by again exposing one of these larvae for some photos. But until a last week, I’d never had a chance to photograph an adult Ant Lion. They are nocturnal and shy and I’d only seen one once. Until we found this one struggling in one of our dogs’ water bowls at night. It sat quietly on the leaf that we extracted it with, long enough for a few photos before it flew off.

Ant Lion traps, Strangways, 19th March 2017


Ant Lion

Adult Ant Lion aka Lacewing


On the other side of the predatory coin, I also recently enjoyed some time with some friendly Meat Ants Iridomyrmex purpureus. The reading I’ve done on this species suggests that they are very aggressive, but this little crew were very happy for me to lie in the dirt close to an outlet of their nest and snap away. I was also interested to read that they can also engage in ritual fights with meat ants from other nests and that they are often eaten by our woodland bird species. A few of these ants seemed to be removing small dead insects from the nest, which I thought might be young that had died.

Meat Ant



4 responses to “Of ants and ant lions

  1. How about a macro photography workshop alongside the bird photography one?

  2. Chris Johnston

    Fab Patrick. Meat ants always run towards me and bite – you must have a different scent?

  3. Thanks for that. Good to see the Ant Lion young’n, a handsome little grub. In my experience, Meat Ants aren’t aggressive if you’re not aggressive to them, and are more interested in meat if it’s dead. I once spent an hour crouching on the edge of a mound watching a conclave of seven or so of their soldiers, standing in a small circle, big heads and tiny bodies, facing each other having some sort of deep and meaningful. After which they wandered off. So there was plenty of activity around me but they simply weren’t bothered. The soldiers weren’t taking any nonsense though, any worker that tried to shift them on was given an immediate spray that tied them in knots. They recycle a lot of stuff, I like them.

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