Friday, October 11, 2013

Ant Lions and Pocket Gophers

Have you ever seen one of these perfectly conical pits in the dirt?

This is an ant lion pit trap. It is about the circumference of nickel. The ant lion larva waits down at the bottom of its beautifully constructed pit waiting for an ant or other insect to wander in. The angle of the pit's sides make it difficult for the insect to get out easily. As grains of sandy dirt roll down the sides of the pit, the ant lion springs to action and grabs its prey.

In order to make this beautifully formed pit, the ant lion needs a specific texture of sandy dry soil. This summer I have been cursing a gopher that has eaten my wild roses and some of my wild currants. But in the midst of planting new plants, I noticed that everywhere there was a pile of dirt kicked out by the gopher there were ant lion pits.

This soil had the perfect consistency for the the ant lions. Hmm. The gopher's work turning the soil was facilitating the right habitat for the ant lions who are trying to control the ant population.

There are plants that the gopher seems to avoid: lemonade berry, Catalina and hollyleaf cherry and toyon. I'm also trying Cleveland sage and milkweed. There has to be something the gopher doesn't like.

These ant lion larva will survive the winter underground and emerge as winged adults that look somewhat like a small dragonflies in the spring.

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