Antlion Timelapse

Three years ago, I wrote a blog post on antlions, fantastic little creatures that live along the base of my house (and elsewhere in the world, I’m sure).  I moved to a new house last year, and was happy to find antlion larvae living along its foundation too.  I dug a few up the other day and brought them indoors for our family to watch (we have a praying mantis nymph in the house at the moment too).  I’ll put them back outside soon.

An antlion larva, a compact and efficient killer, with a muscular

An antlion larva, a compact and efficient killer, with venomous mandibles for subduing prey and a muscular “neck” for tossing sand (and insect carcasses) out of its pit.

It’s been fun to feed ants and other small insects to the larvae, and we’ve been able to watch them construct their cone-shaped hunting pits, but the construction is slow enough that it’s hard to see much progress over the course of a few minutes.  To help us get a better feel for how that construction process works, I set up my camera…

My Nikon D300s camera can be set to take a photo at regular intervals and make timelapse videos.  I set mine for a one minute frequency and let it run for about three and half hours.  During that time, the three antlion larvae moved around the bowl a lot more than I’d expected.  You can see for yourself in this 17 second video…

In the video, you can see that one larva constructs a pit near the bottom left corner of the frame. Another larva makes a larger pit near the center.  Near the bottom of the frame, a third antlion seems to start a pit, give up, wander over (and maybe through?) the smaller pit and then strike off toward the top of the frame and beyond.  The larva in the small pit then begins repairs.  I checked in on these larvae now and then while the camera was running, but never would have guessed there was that much action going on because it happened so gradually.  Compressing time with the timelapse process was invaluable.  It was also interesting how sporadically the action happened – as opposed to a fairly continuous excavation process.

Timelapse is a fairly simple, but very powerful, way to see the world.  You can see some earlier timelapse posts here:

Bison in a blowout

The formation of a cattle trail

A wetland “breathing” through evapotranspiration

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About Chris Helzer

Chris Helzer is the Director of Science for The Nature Conservancy in Nebraska. His main role is to evaluate and capture lessons from the Conservancy’s land management and restoration work and then share those lessons with other landowners – both private and public. In addition, Chris works to raise awareness about the importance of prairies and their conservation through his writing, photography, and presentations to various groups. Chris is also the author of "The Ecology and Management of Prairies in the Central United States", published by the University of Iowa Press. He lives in Aurora, Nebraska with his wife Kim and their children.
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9 Responses to Antlion Timelapse

  1. Jon Groelz says:

    Psst, Chris, did I miss the antlion video link somewhere?

  2. greg says:

    Now that is really cool! I’ve wondered how they built their little pits. Like the spiral action …

  3. Chris Muldoon says:

    Are Jon and I the only ones that are missing the antlion video link?

  4. Karen H. says:

    You forgot the mysterious moving stick video!

  5. Summer Songs says:

    What is the range of the Antlion – do they only occur in certain states?

  6. Chris Helzer says:

    There are actually many many species of antlion (a couple thousand?) and they occur in many countries around the world. I’m not sure which species is in my yard.

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