Friday, August 26, 2011

Just doodling around . . .

Doodle, doodle, doodle,
Bug, bug, bug.
Doodle, doodle, doodle,
Bug, bug, bug.
That doodle would jump up and look all around,
And doodle back in the ground.

When my boys were young (now they are 21 and 19!), we had a set of cassettes called “Animal Folk Songs for Children.”  These cassettes contained all manner of fun folk songs, but the one I really liked at the time still lurks in the back of my mind. Periodically it surges to the fore, and I have to sing it (I may not remember the words correctly).

What leads to this vocal eruption is the sight of the little doodlebug pits. This year we have several large colonies (do they colonize?), more than I remember having before.

As a child, I remember doggedly digging to catch one of the little critters. I never could. I did not know the proper technique. I didn’t even know what they looked like.  (I was not a brave child, so it’s a wonder I was willing to go burrowing into the dirt after an unknown insect.)

Of course my daughter catches them easily. Here’s her technique: She grabs a big handful of sand that contains the pit, then streams the sand through a narrow opening in her hand into her other hand, until the doodlebug lands on her palm.

Doodlebugs, or antlions (Myrmeleon spp.), are the larvae of insects resembling damselflies. The larvae make their pits by burrowing into the dirt backwards, moving in a circle and flinging sand out using upward jerks of their heads. They lurk in the bottom of the inverted sphere with only their jaws exposed, waiting for a passing ant or other small insect to fall in.  Each larva, according to A Field Guide to Common Texas Insects, digs multiple traps as it develops. The Antlion Pit (a website devoted to all things antlion) says the bigger the hole, the hungrier the antlion! 

It's clear how they got the name "antlion." But what about "doodlebug"? The Antlion Pit says that name comes from the doodles the critters leave in the sand as they move around. I'll have to go look for those!

I don’t know which name I like more – doodlebug or antlion.  There is that catchy little song. But, picture tiny lions laying in wait, then springing out with a roar to attack even tinier ants – roar!!!!!! 

These little critters are considered beneficial insects because of their ant depredations. So take your pom-poms and head out to the nearest antlion colony to cheer them on:  GO BIG LIONS!

Favorite spot in the garden today:

Even the prickly pear are desiccated.
Due to our drought, much of the native grasses have moved past the gold color we often see in hot spells into the rust that we see in the winter.  As a result, the roadsides are quite beautiful right now, if you can avoid thinking about why they are this lovely color.

As I was walking around our place recently, I noticed a pretty little grouping – green prickly pear (Opuntia engelmannii var. lindheimeri) surrounded by red clumps of little bluestem grass (Schizachyrium scoparium). These clumps are usually a foot or two in diameter, and should be sending up seed stalks about now. Instead they are about 6" in diameter, and nary a stalk can be found. 

When I went out to take the photo this morning, I discovered a lone red tuna atop the cactus.

Even in deep environmental distress, beauty can be found!

Down the driveway.


  1. You got a chuckle out of me on this hottest day of the hottest year. Love that tiny roar!

  2. I never heard them called antlions. And I dont' see them as much as when I was a child. I wonder if the fire ants have hurt their populations. I'll have to be on the lookout for these tiny lions. Thanks for the information. Very interesting.

  3. So that's what is making all those little piles. I had no idea. Thanks for the enlightenment.

  4. @lona - good to laugh on such a day!

    @HG - apparently biologists have released a fire ant predator in our area, and I can definitely tell they are much diminished. Maybe that is why I'm seeing more doodlebugs than I remember!

    @LR - you're welcome!