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!