Ant lions worth cultivating

Q. What’s destroying my flower bed?

Jennifer from Boardman

A. One Monday morning in our clinic at the OSU Extension Office, I found a picture and a question: “My garden is infested with WHAT!? How vast is the destruction?” After looking at the picture, I understood why the panic. But after researching, I discovered what it was. The bizarre pits are actually the very effective, structural engineering of the ant lion. Not only does this insect do no harm to your garden, but it’s labeled a beneficial insect, because it preys on insects that can feed on your plants. The ant lion constructs a super-efficient food trap at the larvae stage of his life. He digs the pit in loose, sandy soil, usually in a shaded area (overhangs, raised foundations or trees). He then sits patiently, waiting to infect the prey with poison and suck out its juices. Amazing.

What’s even more amazing is how an ant lion builds its pit. Working together in a minefield pattern, each builds its own trap.

Since its abdomen in tapered toward the back and its body is covered in hairs curved toward the front, it can easily scuttle backward drawing a 2-inch circle. It continues downward in concentric circles to the bottom, where it covers itself in sand, allowing only its mandibles to protrude.

f it encounters a pebble, it first tries to flick it out with its head. If it cannot do that, it pushes it back up the pit slope.

As the ant lion larvae grows, its food source changes from primarily ants and small spiders (including the dreaded fire ants) to a variety of other larger prey.

From a predator and heavy feeder with a ferocious armored tank body, it undergoes a metamorphosis into a delicate, dragonfly form with flat, transparent wings.

As an adult it also changes its eating habits from insects to nectar and pollen.

It reminds me of teenage years vs. retirement years – work hard in the dirt for a strong foundation and fly from flower to flower with the results.

If you like the ant lion as well as I do, you can toss some loose sand/soil near your foundation. Make sure you choose a dry area in the shade.

Let’s lure some of the beneficial creatures to our gardens. You can see some photos and more information on these insects at:

Today’s answer by Lil Quaranta, OSU Extension master gardener volunteer. Winter hours for the Plant and Pest Diagnostic Clinic vary. Submit questions to the clinic at 330-533-5538 or drop samples off to the OSU Extension Office in Canfield.

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