Thursday, July 19, 2012

What happens when you combine a butterfly and a dragonfly?

You end up with an adult antlion! Antlions are best known by their larvae, which are also called doodlebugs. They're normally noticed by the traps they set for other small insects, which appear as small cones in sandy areas. At the bottom of the cone lies the antlion, waiting for an unlucky ant to venture too close to the rim before falling to its death at the huge jaws of the antlion. There's no alternative: the sides of the cone are too slippery. The helpless ant will continue to slide down closer and closer to the antlion, before it's finally caught and sucked dry.

Since the larvae are often covered in sand,  you could be forgiven for not recognizing adult antlions upon encountering one. Their jaws aren't nearly as prominent, and puberty manifested some other huge changes.

A far cry from its doodlebug roots.

Being a member of the order Neuroptera (the lacewings), they gain beautiful wings as adults, easily as marvelous as any dragonfly. They're cooler even! When was the last time you saw a dragonfly with neat cowprint like this species has?

The veins in the wings also give the antlion a nice nerve-looking pattern.

This species is Glenurus gratus, a name which refers to the pleasing mottled pattern on the ends of the wings. It's an eastern species with a large wingspan, and it makes a presence when flying. I had the luck to find this antlion last night around my porch light, but had I not caught a glimpse of it, I never would have known it was there. It certainly looks huge when flying, but it barely makes any noise at all while flapping its gossamer wings. It's almost like watching plastic floating through the air. .....that's not the most inspiring comparison, but it's beautiful to watch. Definitely more beautiful than actual plastic floating through the air.

I jumped around like a madman trying to catch it, having only a plastic bug cage (I had just released a prionid beetle from the cage) with me, and it almost escaped into the darkness about five times before I had it. This was the first time I had actually seen an adult antlion, and it's now near the top of my list of beautiful insects. The wings might be the only beautiful part about it, but the way it flies is a spectacle in its own right. The novelty helps as well--the only Neuropterans I see with any frequency are the tiny green lacewings, which are bland in comparison.

Helicopter mode, engage!

The larvae of this species live in sawdust and other fine debris in the hollows of trees, and adults can be found in forests. If you admire the grace of butterflies and the fine beauty of dragonfly wings, you'd do well to seek out the adult antlions--you certainly won't be disappointed.

More information:


  1. Good one Derek. The only place I ever got this was Florida. Nice to know it is also found here.

  2. One of these adult picture winged antlions was trapped in my fireplace several days ago... I did take a number of pictures of it before releasing it 'to the wild'...It took several days and a dear friend to identify it... I was going for 'helicopter damselfly' which has some similarities. it was found in southeast Missouri.