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Giant Antlion

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While in the field I caught a glimpse of a golden winged insect flying out of the corner of my eye. During the frantic chase I was completely sure it was a spoonwing, an unusual Neuropteran relative with characteristic hindwings that are modified into two elongated tails, each with a single wing vein running longitudinally. Upon capture, it was actually a giant antlion (Myrmeleontidae: Palpares sp.), and easily the most stunning one I have ever seen in my life. As larvae, most antlions build an inverted conical pit made of fine layers of sand. When a small arthropod moves just past the edge, the precarious construction of the trap will cause the unlucky wanderer to crumble down to the center of the pit where the antlion lies in ambush. Antlion larvae will then clamp down on their prey with their large scythed mandibles, attempting subduction by injecting pre-digestive enzymes. If unable to overpower or grab the prey, antlions will continue to flick sand directly at the intruder to continue the ensnaring avalanche. Antlions are extremely sensitive to vibrations, using these cues to make decisions about whether to clasp, perform sand-flicking, or refrain from involvement with a larger arthropod.

All photos taken after capture under controlled conditions [6]


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