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Antlion larvae on a hand

Antlion, the monster of the sands

By José Antonio Sánchez Iglesias

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Antlions are insects belonging to the order Neuroptera. They are not true ants, although their small larvae that can reach 1 cm in length may remind them. They are fierce predators of ants and other small insects that share with them the sandy soils in which they live. This small creatures, looking like something out of a science fiction movie, lives in most cases buried in the bottom of a pitfall trap built with the most meticulous engineering precision. There they wait patiently for their preys. When they

Trampa de hormiga león

Antlion trap

reach the slippery edge the fall down to the bottom, where they face the monster of enormous jaws. Often they used them in conjunction with their head to push sand grains into their prey and thus increase the slippery effect of the inclined walls of the trap. A very refined hunting technique that leads to success in most of cases.

Adulto de Palpares libelluloides posado

Adult of palpares libelluloides

Do not get confused with the traps of  warmlions (Diptera Vermileonidae), a kind of mosquito whose larvae burrow into banks and protected places covered with fine sand and dust and build a very similar trap, with more vertical walls ,without reaching the size of the antlion’s and , unlike them, gathered in groups. If you manage to capture one of them you will see that they do not resemble at all that of the antlion, they look like little rigid legless worms with strong jaws, which sag toward each side trying to escape you.


Once the prey is captured and secured with their huge mouth parts that look like jaws, they are literally emptied, all juices are liquefied and absorbed.

In other cases, such as the impressive palpares libelluloides , the largest antlion in our latitudes, the larvae live in leaf litter or hidden in the lower strata of vegetation, stalking their prey. In Doñana you can find them in areas of salty bushes, dry pastures and roadsides.


Adulto de nemoptera bipennis

Adult of nemoptera bipennis

Another abundant antlion in Doñana is the elegant nemoptera bipennis, ultra-stylish animal with  very elongated hind wings, shaped like tails, which have lost their function of flight. They wander about in sandy areas of cork and pine forest edges from late spring.

Adults are predators, feeding on small flying insects, caterpillars and other species of antlions. With a very clumsy flight, they usually return to roost if winds blows slightly to protect themselves i n the nearby vegetation. They have long antennae, large round eyes and elongated nose with strong jaws.

Detalle de la cabeza de palpares libelluloides

Head of palpares libelluloides

Detalle de la cabeza de nemoptera bipennis

Head detail of nemoptera bipennis









About José Antonio Sánchez Iglesias

José Antonio Sánchez se licenció en Biología por la Universidad de Sevilla en 1985. Más tarde, durante varios años, se dedicó a organizar y guiar rutas de senderismo y naturaleza ...