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What’s a Pet Antlion or Doodlebug

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If you want a bit of the African Safari action (survival of the fittest) in your room, the quickest way to stage the scene is to have a pet antlion in a box. For the innocent, antlions are not a cross between an ant and a lion. Have you heard of doodlebugs? Those insect larvae that dig a funnel in the sand and sit at the bottom to wait for its meal? Those are antlions. And they make a very good pet for curious kids or daring adults who want to be unique in their choice of pet.

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Pet Antlion Lifecycle

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Antlions, or commonly called doodlebugs in North America, hail from eggs laid by adult antlions on leaves, walls, tree barks, or on the sand. When they hatch, they become larvae that you want to have as pets. Antlions are unique in that they spend most of their lifetime as larvae… a whole 2-3 years in the sand waiting for its prey. When it’s ready, your pet antlion will morph into a pupa incased in its self-made tiny ball cocoon to emerge weeks later as a winged, dragon-fly like insect. It’s better to set your pet antlion at this stage as adult antlions are very short-lived.

How Do a Pet Antlion Look Like

Despite its name, doodlebugs neither resemble an ant let alone a lion. It’s no bigger than a pencil head, which largest part of the body is the abdomen to store all the insect prey juices ingested. Your pet antlion in larval stage doesn’t have anus to excrete the bowel! It has six legs, of course, because it’s an insect. And on its tiny head are foreboding jaws from hell – at least to its insect prey’s perspective.

Antlions Hunting Prey

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The reason people want antlions as pets is to observe them hunting. Although not quite watching a ferocious lion going for a kill, observing antlions hunt its prey is the closest you can get to a live African Safari action in your room. It’s fun to watch your pet antlion construct its mini insect trap – those tiny sand pits you see in your pet antlion box. Observe them digging insect trap pits by tossing sand using its large jaws. When the pit is about an inch deep, your pet antlion quietly sits at the bottom of the funnel-like pit to wait for insects (i.e. ants, termites, small wingless insects, etc.) to trip over toward its waiting jaws of death at the bottom of the pit. It’s a gruesome scene. As you can see, feeding your pet antlion is never expensive and tedious; there are always ants and termites around.

Preparing to Transition

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When you no longer see your pet antlion make its famous pit, don’t worry. Perhaps it’s preparing for a big transition from larva to pupa. Give it a good week since you observe it not making its insect trap pit before you check your pet. You can check your pet antlion by very gently pouring the sand (don’t throw it; you’re going to return it later) out the box to look for a tiny round cocoon in which the larva made by spinning silk from its posterior gland. Once you confirm the presence of cocoon, replace the sand back into the box and cover the cocoon with about an inch of sand. In about a month, the adult antlion will emerge from the cocoon to climb up the nearest twig you want to plant upright in the sand.

The Adult Antlion

Winged adult antlions live a very short life: about 20-25 days. So after forming into a fully grown adult, all your pet antlion can think about is to find a mate to perpetuate its precious genes. The males will not stop to eat or rest until it has deposited its sperm in a female antlion. And the females wouldn’t rest also until it has deposited its eggs in the sand or on tree barks. If you decide to keep your adult pet antlion, be sure to hatch the pupa inside a large-enough fish tank to hold the flying insects.

There you have it. Antlions are strange pets, but they’re very educational and entertaining for a pet lover or a child with an inquisitive mind. And raising a pet antlion is relatively costless, plus you’re doing a good service to the tiny insects if you do.

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