ANTLION PIT

Antlions are often referred to as one of South Africa’s ‘little five’, although their presence is not confined to this country. As children we were endlessly fascinated by the conical holes made by the antlion larva in sandy soil.

Every time I see one I am reminded of how we would take a fine stick or a piece of grass and gently stir the fine grains of sand around the edge while chanting Molletjie, molletjie kom tog uit until the mysterious looking larva would appear – probably disappointed that the movements of its ant trap had not been caused by prey after all!

For years I wondered why we said molletjie, molletjie … until a colleague explained to me that the antlion larvae are called a molletjie in Afrikaans – such is the charm of childhood that we do not necessarily question what is an obvious ritual. I learned then too that the whole chant (although I never recall anyone saying it in full) is

Molletjie, molletjie kom tog uit,

Sout en peper en boerbeskuit!

Perhaps my developing understanding of Afrikaans at that stage meant that part was lost on me. Nonetheless, I diligently taught my children the same abbreviated chant as we teased the antlions from their traps while they grew up in Mmabatho – where there was plenty of sand!

These pits are made by the larvae reversing in a ‘cork-screw’ fashion into the sand. We sometimes used to watch them through a magnifying glass (a wonderful gift for a young child!) as they flicked out the sand with their mandibles until they had formed a smooth-sided, cone shaped hole. Ants walking along the edge would slide towards the bottom of the hole where they would be grabbed by the ant lion larva.  We would sometimes catch ants to put into the trap and wait to see the action!

16 thoughts on “ANTLION PIT

  1. Vandag nog sal ek krap in so ‘n gaatjie en kyk waar is die leeutjie. Ek het nog nooit daardie rympie gehoor nie. In Afrikaans is ‘n mol dieselfde as ‘n “mole”. Dis dalk hoekom die larwe ‘n molletjie genoem word, want hy is ook ondergronds.

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  2. You do have the habit of sending me off to the library (google) to read more about nature. I just had to go and find out a little bit more about antlions … and then I carried on reading about the difference between damselflies and antlions. Very interesting stuff.

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  3. They have always fascinated me – nowadays I show the grandkids the trick of “tickling” the side of the conical hole with a twig which the ant lion reacts to by flicking sand to get the “prey” to slide down into its clutches

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  4. Antlions are such a fascination for children everywhere it seems 🙂 Here they are called ‘kuzhi-aana’ which when translated means ‘pit-elephant’

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  5. I have a picture book from my childhood that has an antlion in it – I was always fascinated by it, so glad to see something more about it! 🙂 I’m from a very different part of the world, so have never seen one in real life…

    Your blog is lovely!

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