[Sign Up Now] to Receive Our FREE Daily SCVTV-SCVNews Digest by E-Mail

Inside
Weather
Santa Clarita CA
Sunny
Sunny
100°F
 
Calendar
Today in
S.C.V. History
August 3
1975 - Henry Mayo Newhall Memorial Hospital opens with 100 beds [story]
HMNMH


Commentary by Evelyne Vandersande
| Thursday, Sep 21, 2017

At the Placerita Canyon Nature Center, we regularly welcome school groups coming for a tour. One of the first questions the docents get from the children is, “Are we going to see bears?” or, “What animals are on the trails?” We try gently to explain that many animals hide when a group of 10 grade-schoolers marches noisily on the trail, but if we look, we can find traces of those animals.

A good illustration of this fact on the trail is when we stop to study our first coyote scat. You can see the incredulous look on the children faces: “We are looking at poop? Gross.” Then a look of surprise and mild appreciation appears. “She can tell that the coyote eats a lot of Hollywood cherries, because we can see all the pits in the scat. That is kind of interesting … I never knew that.” We will rarely see a coyote on the trail, but we can see it was there recently and left its trace.

You do not have to go far to notice animal activity. Even in your back yard, you can make discoveries without ever seeing the animal.

There is a large wood-rat nest in my neighbor’s back yard and many smaller nests were started in my yard, so I know there is an active presence around. But I only saw a furry tail once, for a slip of a second.

You know birds build nests in the trees around your house, but often you are not aware they were there until all of the foliage comes down and you can see the delicate construction.

It came to my attention there is a common insect that most people are not aware of because you never see it. It is mostly active underground. However, if you know what you are looking for, its traps are in many places and are very obvious.

I would like to discuss the antlion. Never heard of it? Wait a minute, maybe you know them under the name doodlebugs, and that is what I was referring to. They make those meandering trails as they look for the perfect place to dig their trap.

Once they find a good place they walk backward, flicking sand, so the trap is made only with soft soil or sand. They throw aside all rocks or little roots that would prevent them from making a perfect, cone-shaped pit. They keep going deeper so the cone of the trap gets smaller and smaller. Then they bury themselves at the bottom of the pit with their mandibles sticking out. If an ant passes by, it falls into the pit. It will try to escape, but the pit is made of very loose sand, going deeper and deeper, and there is no way to escape the deadly mandibles at the bottom of the pit. It is one of the simplest but extremely efficient traps.

Does that sound like a nightmare? It gets better. This antlion is in the larva stage and does not have a mouth, only a slit, so it cannot chew. Those curved mandibles again come to the rescue because the only thing the antlion larva can eat needs to be liquefied. The hooks inject a digestive enzyme into the prey so all the tissues get dissolved, and then the larva can suck its food.

The larva is not the most beautiful creature. It is grey or brown with a soft body covered in bristles, but you will very rarely see it if you do not dig for it. I have found the best way to see this elusive creature is to dig in one swift scoop inside the soft pit with a tea strainer. All of the soft sand from the pit will drain away, and you will be left with the larva so you can see it. It is very small (a little shorter than a nail), and once you have a good look, put it back where it was so it gets a chance to rebuild its trap.

Why are they called antlion? Because they feed mostly on ants, I guess, and they are the big, top predator, so they became the lion of the ants.

The story does not stop here. It is a larva, so you know this is only one cycle in its life. It starts with eggs that change into larva. Then it goes into metamorphosis inside a cocoon buried in the sand. The pupa, when it comes to full size, can make this cocoon with fine silk coming from a spinneret at its rear end and mix it up with soil. The cocoon is buried in the ground. It will take about one month of patient waiting, but then a wonderful insect will come out of the cocoon.

They are from the large family Neuroptera that includes lacewings and resemble damselflies. They are very different from damselflies because they have long, clubbed antennae. They have two pairs of translucent wings and a slender abdomen; they are active only during the evening, fluttering at night, looking for a mate. They are rarely seen during the day and are poor flyers. They usually stay put during the day, and they have great camouflage with transparent wings and a grayish body.

The life span of the adult is usually about 25 days, and their most important goal is to find a mate to reproduce and ensure the survival of the species by laying eggs.

There are about 2,000 species of antlions found in many parts of the world, but the species that dig pits to attract their prey seem to favor dry climates where the pit won’t be destroyed by pouring rain. That makes sense.

In cooler climates or during the rainy season, they dig deeper into the ground and remain inactive during the winter. They can survive many months without food because the larva has a low metabolic rate.

In the southern part of the United States, people chant a little song to make the antlion come out of its hole. That seems totally useless and not efficient at all until you learn that people are doing the same in Africa, the Caribbean, China and Australia. Why, oh why?

Sometimes life imitates fiction at its best. When it came time to find a horrible sarlacc monster for the Star Wars movies, the producers did not have to look any further than the antlion, which was the direct inspiration. You can see an uncanny resemblance to the larva.

In nature, it is important to learn to look closely at many little things to be able to learn the real story. Who would have thought those doodling designs in the dust would bring you to the antlion?

 

 

Evelyne Vandersande has been a docent at the Placerita Canyon Nature Center since 1986. She lives in Newhall.

 

 

Comment On This Story
COMMENT POLICY: We welcome comments from individuals and businesses. All comments are moderated. Comments are subject to rejection if they are vulgar, combative, or in poor taste.
REAL NAMES ONLY: All posters must use their real individual or business name. This applies equally to Twitter account holders who use a nickname.

6 Comments

  1. I always enjoy your informative articles.

  2. SCVTeamM says:

    Agreed, Great article.

  3. mama bear says:

    Re the coyote scat and the Holly Cherry seeds: We were hiking in Placerita Canyon one winter the found scat with lots of seeds in it. We knew it wasn’t the season for the holly cherries, so we asked at the Nature Center upon the completion of our hike. They said the coyotes can eat holly cherries all year around because they dig up the fruit that has been buried during the growing season–either their own stash, or the stash of some other unsuspecting snimal who has probably long forgotten where he/she hid the berries anyway!

  4. mama bear says:

    Oops another typo (bad, bad, bad!) It says “the found scat” but should have said “and found scat.” And maybe the kids made the transition to HOllywood Cherries, but they’re are officially only Holly Cherries!

  5. Thank you Evelyne, You always write interesting articles to inform us about our Nature right here in Newhall.
    We saw a poor coyote right in front of my house on 8th Street on Thursday morning. It looked like it needed a good meal and drink of water. He did not seem afraid of us and he/she just walked up hill to Scotts house and went into their yard. I have also been hearing the lovely owls in our trees. I know you like nature however the rats carry many diseases and are not helpful to our neighborhood.

Leave a Comment


Opinion Section Policy
All opinions and ideas are welcome. Factually inaccurate, libelous, defamatory, profane or hateful statements are not. Your words must be your own. All commentary is subject to editing for legibility. There is no length limit, but the shorter, the better the odds of people reading it. "Local" SCV-related topics are preferred. Send commentary to: LETTERS (at) SCVNEWS.COM. Author's full name, community name, phone number and e-mail address are required. Phone numbers and e-mail addresses are not published except at author's request. Acknowledgment of submission does not guarantee publication.
Read More From...
RECENT COMMENTARY
Monday, Aug 3, 2020
In his August message, Santa Clarita Mayor Cameron Smyth urges residents to prepare for and help prevent dangerous brushfires.
Friday, Jul 17, 2020
We must change our paradigm and the way we think. It’s not enough for us to avoid being racists. We must become warriors against racism and combat it wherever it rears its ugly head.
Saturday, Jul 11, 2020
Gray hair allows a triage doctor to withhold medical care at their discretion, should they feel your life expectancy might not be longer than 5 years. It’s called Crisis Standards of Care, and the physician is absolved of liability. Look it up.
Thursday, Jul 2, 2020
It seems like many things in our lives have been flipped upside down in the past few months. However, work continues, as planned, on the two major projects within our Santa Clarita 2020 Strategic Plan. Throughout the Safer at Home order, construction projects continued to progress.
Wednesday, Jul 1, 2020
July is filled with warm, sunny days and one of the city of Santa Clarita’s favorite holidays - the Fourth of July.
Tuesday, Jun 30, 2020
Attempting to care for mental health problems, homelessness, and other social ills should not be placed in the realm of law enforcement.

Latest Additions to SCVNews.com
The 2020 Santa Clarita Marathon, presented by Parkway Motorcars, has been canceled due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and related public health concerns for runners, spectators, volunteers, staff and event partners.
Santa Clarita Marathon Canceled for 2020 Due to COVID-19
Single-use plastics do not break down and contribute to a large portion of the waste found in landfills and in our rivers and oceans.
How to Reduce Waste from Single-Use Plastics
In his August message, Santa Clarita Mayor Cameron Smyth urges residents to prepare for and help prevent dangerous brushfires.
Mayor Smyth’s August Message: Help Prevent Dangerous Brushfires
Recently, Santa Clarita business partners came across something new and useful in the fight against COVID-19: a nano copper film, which provides an extra layer of protection from bacteria and viruses on high-touched surfaces.
Nano Copper Film: A New Weapon in Battle Against COVID-19
A fast-moving brush fire dubbed the Post Fire scorched more than 100 acres in Gorman Sunday night, while parts of northbound Interstate 5 and Highway 138 remained closed Monday morning.
Post Fire Held at 120 Acres, Continues to Slow Traffic on Interstate 5
California’s plan to address a backlog of about 1 million unemployment benefit claims could take two months to clear.
SCV Lawmakers Respond to Newsom’s Plan to Clear Backlog of Unemployment Claims
A fast-moving, 170-acre brush fire near Castaic Lake dubbed the Castaic Fire reached 50% containment by Sunday morning, according to Angeles National Forest officials.
Castaic Fire Burns Nearly 180 Acres, 50% Contained
1975 - Henry Mayo Newhall Memorial Hospital opens with 100 beds [story]
HMNMH
1935 - Newhall deputy Archie Carter sentenced to 1 year in jail for contributing to the delinquency of a minor after his wife fatally shot his 20-year-old mistress (the age of majority was 21). [story]
Archie Carter
The Los Angeles County Department of Public Health confirmed Saturday 50 new deaths and 2,303 new cases of COVID-19, as Henry Mayo Newhall Hospital reported two additional COVID-related deaths to date, bringing SCV’s total to 48.
Saturday COVID-19 Roundup: 2 Additional Deaths at Henry Mayo; California Surpasses 500,000 Cases
Fast-Moving Castaic Fire Erupts to 160 Acres
Fast-Moving Castaic Fire Erupts to 160 Acres
The first shutdown in March was tough for longtime hairdresser Mona Huckaby but the second and current one is worse, she said Saturday.
SCV Salon Workers Hold Reopening Rally
1963 - Leona Cox Community School breaks ground in Canyon Country [story]
Leona Cox
California State University, Northridge administrators informed educators, students and staff Friday that they may have all been affected by a massive security breach suffered this spring by Blackbaud, CSUN's third-party technology provider.
CSUN, Others Possibly Affected by Massive Hack of Tech Provider Blackbaud
Throughout the pandemic, healthcare workers, such as doctors and nurses, on the front lines of the COVID-19 fight have been dubbed heroes.
Henry Mayo’s Darby Kyhl: Frontline Hero of a Different Kind
L.A. County Public Health officials on Friday confirmed 69 new deaths and 2,652 new cases of COVID-19, with 4,380 cases confirmed to date in the Santa Clarita Valley, including 2,152 in the city of Santa Clarita, as California marked the first death of a teen COVID patient.
Friday COVID-19 Roundup: SCV Cases Total 4,380; California Marks First Teen COVID Death
The Santa Clarita Public Library invites city residents of all ages to join the “Imagine Your Story” Photo Contest, with entries due by Monday, August 24.
Santa Clarita Public Library Hosts ‘Imagine Your Story’ Photo Contest
Santa Clarita city mascot Sammy Clarita is excited to participate in the city’s Recycle Hero campaign to break down recycling misconceptions and encourage residents to help the city win the fight to recycle right.
Sammy Clarita is Santa Clarita’s Newest Recycle Hero
A new charter school, Eagle Collegiate Academy, is coming to Acton after the state Board of Education approved the school's petition earlier this month against the recommendation of local, county and state education officials.
Eagle Collegiate Academy Approved as New SCV Charter School
Detectives with the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Homicide Bureau have started an investigation after the body of a man was found at William S. Hart Park Friday morning.
Man’s Body Found in Restroom at Hart Park; Detectives Investigating
The California High-Speed Rail Authority on Friday extended the public review period for the Burbank to Los Angeles Draft Environmental Impact Report/Environmental Impact Statement an additional 31 days to Aug. 31, 2020, bringing the total comment period to 94 days.
High-Speed Rail Extends EIR Review Period for Burbank-L.A. Section to Aug. 31
Those working with the Santa Clarita Valley’s homeless population fear the county’s annual count of people in need of housing is once again lower than the actual figure, despite having 30% more people helping in the count.
LAHSA Continues to Struggle with L.A. County Homeless Population Count
A 39-year-old Encino woman was arrested Thursday in Newhall on suspicion of stealing a Budget rental moving truck — the kind of crime that local law enforcement officials say is on the rise amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
Woman Arrested on Suspicion of Grand Theft of Budget Rental Truck
Health officials issuing air quality advisories that highlight three communities — the East San Gabriel Valley, the San Gabriel Mountains and the Santa Clarita Valley — is an unhealthy summer tradition, an air quality expert said Thursday.
Why Unhealthy Air Quality Advisories are Common in SCV
%d bloggers like this: