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Meeting a Wormlion Is the Pits | Deep Look

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Channel: Deep Look
Categories: Biology   |   Environmental   |   Science  
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Straight out of science fiction, the fearsome wormlion ambushes prey at the bottom of a tidy - and terrifying - sand pit, then flicks their carcasses out. These meals fuel its transformation into something unexpected.

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DEEP LOOK is a ultra-HD (4K) short video series created by KQED San Francisco and presented by PBS Digital Studios. See the unseen at the very edge of our visible world. Explore big scientific mysteries by going incredibly small.
Ominous creatures that lurk deep underground in the desert, like the sandworms in the classic science fiction novel "Dune," arent just make-believe. For ants and other prey, wormlions are a terrifying reality.

While quite smallthey can grow up to an inchwormlions are fly larvae that curl up their bodies like slingshots. Usually found under rock or log overhangs in dry, sandy landscapes, theyll energetically fling soil, sand and pebbles out of the way to dig pit traps.

Once an unlucky critter falls in, wormlions move at lightning speed and quickly wrap their bodies around their victims. Squeezing them like boa constrictors, they also inject them with a paralyzing venom. They feed this way for several years, until they transform into adults.

Joyce Gross, a computer programmer for the UC Berkeley Natural History Museums, is fascinated by their unique hunting behavior.

They have such a weird life history," she said. "They're the only flies that dig pits like this, and wait for prey to fall in, just like antlions.

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--- Are antlions and wormlions related?

While they use a similar hunting technique with pitfall traps, theyre actually two separate species.

--- How are antlions and wormlions different from each other?

Antlions have big jaws, while wormlions have tiny mouthparts typical of other flies. They also dig pits differently. Antlions (genus Myrmeleon) create deeper pits by digging backwards in a spiral-shaped path.

---+ For more information:

Read "Demons of the Dust" (1930) by William Morton Wheeler:

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