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The Insect That is the Cross Between an Alien Xenomorph and the Sarlacc


Photo: J. Gallego/Macroinstantes - via Why Evolution is True

Spanish photographer J. Gallego of the Microinstantes blog captured the eye-popping pictures above of the larva of a species of lacewing or thread-winged antlion (of the tribe Crocinae) with an extremely elongated prothorax and fearsome jaws.

Now, this probably reminded you of the iconic scene in Alien 3 where Ripley came face to face with the Alien xenomorph.


Image: Twentieth Century Fox

Not only that, the insect is also like the Sarlacc, which inhabits the Great Pit of Carkoon, from the movie Star Wars.


Image: Star Wars VI: Return of the Jedi

Why Sarlacc, you ask? Here's why. An antlion larva digs sand pit trap and buries itself in the center of the pit with its jaws just below the surface, waiting for an unsuspecting ant to wander in.

An ant that steps into the loose sand of the pit would slip to the bottom, right to the waiting jaws of the antlion. A quick snap of the long mandibles not only captures the ant, but also injects into it a cocktail of digestive enzmes to liquify the content of the victim's body.

Escaping the trap isn't easy - if an ant tries to climb up the wall of the pit, the antlion would start throwing sand and pebbles at the insect to make it fall back (the sandy wall of the pit is also prone to collapse, thus sending the victim back to the maws of the waiting antlion).

(Entomologist Gil Wizen has a fascinating photo of the Crocinae larvae emerging from its sandy death trap)

Here's a video clip of how an Antlion pit works from the Discovery channel's Monster Bug Wars:


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Indeed, the editing is ginned up to make the event more dramatic and therefore more "television-friendly," but I think it does the job in showing how an antlion trap works. I wonder how many insects, percentage-wise, do manage to escape.
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In videos of this type, I can really do without the extra sound effects. I think it gives people a very false impression of the actual events. I think they used sounds from a lion killing a wildebeest, or something, to add to the video.
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Check out Twaggies' very funny clip:

Om Nom - Twaggies by Twaggies
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