15 January 2011 by Julienne du Toit

Trolls of the Tracks

Along a sandy path in the bush, you may find tracks that will make you wonder whether a drunk lady in stilettos has wandered past only minutes before.

You’ll mostly find these perfectly shaped conical pits in shady places. They’re made by tiny insects in a larval form, digging traps for ants or termites. The diggers are called ant lions, but they don’t look nearly as impressive as real thing - even factoring in the radical size difference.

Unless your guide digs one out for you, you’ll never see these odd small portly insects with their backward-facing legs. They live entirely underground at this stage of their life, lying in wait for unwary ants.

Once they get an ant, they grab it, inject it with venom that basically dissolves the ant’s innards, and suck it to a husk. Ant lions live for years like this - the evil miniature trolls of the sand tracks.

But nature always surprises you. These unlovely creatures then undergo a metamorphosis, changing into rather exquisite adults. They look a little like dragonflies, wings and bodies all darkly iridescent.

In this elegant final stage, they’re like celebrities on diet, eating nothing. They only mate, lay eggs and die within days.

Category: Wildlife

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