It’s known as one of the Little Five, but Michael Ellis says don’t let that fool you. This little critter is both clever and vicious.
When you’re game viewing in East Africa you want to see the Big Five -- lions, rhinos, cape buffaloes, leopards, elephants. But the local guides also emphasize the Little Five -- leopard tortoises, buffalo weavers, elephant shrews, rhinoceros beetles and antlions, all part of the fabric of nature.
Back here in faraway Santa Rosa I had a little bit of fine sand left over from a project so I spread it under a tree. And low and behold within a short period of time appeared these tiny conical pits. One of the Little Five! Antlions! I was thrilled.
These craters have the perfect angle of repose to trap small prey. When an ant stumbles into the pit a tiny avalanche occurs. Gravity and loose sand grains prevent the insect from escaping. At the bottom is a ferocious creature. Bristles all over the body anchor this animal firmly in the sand and poking out of the head are massive pinchers. As the ant struggles frantically to escape, the antlion undermines the sand, creating more instability, and the ant slides into the bottom. The giant pincers grab it and pound it to death.
I must confess as a small boy and even a grown-up naturalist I have found guilty pleasure in dropping ants into these pits and watching the resulting struggle. I know, I know some of us never grow up.