Wildlife Exploration: Hunting for Antlions

When­ever I men­tion my child­hood escapades of hunt­ing for antlions, many peo­ple respond, “What? You hunted for a line of ants?” I’m always sur­prised at how many peo­ple don’t know about them.


So, you don’t know what an antlion is? Antlions are ani­mals; in fact, they are the lar­vae stage of a damsel fly, and observ­ing them is a great wildlife explo­ration activ­ity for of all ages. Hunt­ing for antlions can be fas­ci­nat­ing and by tak­ing the time to watch them you can learn what they eat, how they cap­ture their prey and how they make their trap. But best of all, you can hold them.

They hang out in many back­yards, tucked qui­etly into the dirt under some weather-aged stairs. If you’re not lucky enough to find their lit­tle inverted cone homes at your place, you can hunt for them any­where you see fine-grained dirt, pro­tec­tion from the ele­ments and most impor­tantly, where there are lots of ants! Look under demount­able build­ings, under play equip­ment in a park or in unde­vel­oped city lots. Once you know what you’re look­ing for, you’ll see them almost everywhere.

What you can learn by observ­ing antlions:

  • Parts of an antlion: To have a closer look at an antlion, blow gen­tly on their cone trap. Keep blow­ing until you see the antlion at the base. Gen­tly pick it up with your thumb and pointer fin­ger (or scoop it up with a spoon) and place it in the palm of your hand. Put him on his back with his legs in the air. If you’re patient, the antlion will flip over and start to move around in a cir­cle on your hand.


  • Hold­ing an antlion is gen­er­ally con­sid­ered quite safe. Their mandible is usu­ally too small to bite you, how­ever, they are still an ani­mal and they do have jaws so it’s impor­tant to be careful.
  • What an antlion eats and how they cap­ture their prey: If you’re patient enough you may see an unsus­pect­ing ant fall into an antlion pit (or if you’re not too sen­si­tive, you could drop one in your­self). They pre­dom­i­nately eat ants but will eat any­thing else they can cap­ture in their trap, such as tiny crick­ets and other crawl­ing insects. They wait patiently in the bot­tom of their inverted cone and ambush their prey. The pit holds their prey just long enough for their strong jaws to grasp the insect.


  • How do they make their cone trap? After you put the antlion back onto the ground, he will start dig­ging his pit right in front of your eyes, and what an exca­va­tor he is, flick­ing giant dirt rocks out of his pit.

Equip­ment sug­ges­tions for hunt­ing antlions:

  • A mag­ni­fy­ing glass – not nec­es­sary but help­ful to get a bet­ter view
  • A spoon to scoop them into your hand
  • A cam­era to doc­u­ment your hunt­ing journey
  • Remem­ber, Antlions live near ants and their nests so wear shoes to avoid get­ting bitten.

Don’t be scared off by the video below. To an ant, they’re an effec­tive and lethal preda­tor, but to us, they are harm­less tiny crea­tures that young wildlife-rangers-to-be will love to study up-close. I grew up hunt­ing for antlions with my Dad, a mem­ory from my child­hood I will always cher­ish, and I’m glad to be shar­ing it with you.


Find my blog at http://www.wildlifefun4kids.com

Did you know about Antlions?


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