Monday, March 14, 2011

How do you catch an antlion (ukoy-ukoy Ilk)?

Abe V Rotor

To catch an antlion is a unique skill we children in the province learned from old folks. It’s really nothing of value; it’s just a game, and it’s the joy of catching the subterranean insect by baiting it with another ant lion. Antlion is the larva of a Neuropteran that builds a pit trap in sandy soil under the stairs, around the house or in some corners of the field that is dry and sandy. The pit is funnel-shaped, one inch or two across, and at least an inch deep at the center where under it resides the hairy monster the size of sesame seed. There it patiently waits for an unwary ant or other insects that fall into it. As the victim struggles to get out from the loose sand pit, the antlion subdues it with a large pair of mandible, drags it down under to become its meal.

Happy kids that we were, we would tie a live antlion with a strand of hair around its mandibles, and “fish” other antlions. First, we look for pits with occupants. To know it, we tease the occupant by causing a little landslide, and when we see sand particles being thrown back by the occupant in an attempt to repair the pit, we prepare the decoy. We let it dive into the middle of the pit where it is met by the inhabitant, and responding to the invasion, attacks and clings on it. We would then hoist both decoy and catch. The rule is that he who fished more won, and poor antlions we caught had to build new nests after we had thrown them back into the ground.

Antlions, I learned many years later, are beneficial insects because they devour destructive insects such as red ants. Red ants protect aphids and mealy bugs through symbiosis, and so by doing, help the latter multiply and destroy crops. The antlion metamorphoses into a beautiful adult, a fly a little larger than the mayfly (Order Ephemeroptera), into beautiful kaleidoscopic colors under the sun or under a lamp shade.

Living with Folk Wisdom, UST-AVR

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