A Tiny Hole in the Sand Ain’t Always an Ant.

As a kid I saw ant hills everywhere, even in cracks in pavement.  Since then my understanding of what a little hole in the sand could be made by has broadened tremendously.  Here are a few examples of different creatures that make holes in the sand.

Antlion Colony

Above are tiny pits in a protected spot under a shed roof.  Other than demonstrating how long ago the rototiller was used, these little pits can lead us to the amazing creature pictured below.

Antlion

Antlions dig their pits as a trap for ants.  They back down into the earth and flick sand up at any ant that enters the pit, making it impossible for the ant to do anything but fall deeper in.  The antlion, waiting at the bottom, then grabs them with those big mandibles and its all over for the ant.  Antlions are the larval form of what are known as lacewings, which somewhat resemble a dragonfly.

Solitary bee

While antions create an inverted version of an ant hill, these next examples do have somewhat of a mound around them. The biggest difference between this and the ants is a much bigger hole which is not always in the center.  Many species of solitary bees and wasps create these holes.  I find these in colonies in open sandy ground without any real protection from disturbance.

In the above picture you can see a bee coming out of the hole.  The below pictured holes are more indicative of the solitary wasps, with the sand pushed out in one direction.

solitary bee or wasp

In this picture a “pathway” was created in front of the hole.

testing depth

We tested the depth of a few of these holes and found them to be around 2 inches deep.  They could of course have changed angle and gone further down.

testing depth

Below is a closeup of one of the suspected wasp holes.

solitary bee or wasp burrow

 

Wolf spider burrow

Many kinds of wolf spiders burrow, some make these turreted holes, using twigs, pebbles and spider silk.  The wolf spider pictured below was walking amongst several of these spider holes which circumstantially indicates it may be of the borrowing wolf spiders (Geolycosa).  It is carrying its young on its back.

Wolf spider with young on it back

 

Tiger Beetle

This beauty is a Six Spotted Tiger Beetle.  Its larval form digs vertical shafted, very clean holes.  The adult form (pictured above) digs this hole below, more of a shallow slot really, as a shelter.

Possibly adult tiger beetle

As a kid I was not much interested in insects and spiders until I learned they could build things.  Turns out they build all sorts of thing including these burrows and tunnels and its was all right under my feet.

Tufted Titmouse Treasure

Mantis Egg Case

Deneen and I were out on a snowshoe in the amazing deep snow we have here in southern New England and came upon this little titmouse in a blueberry bush. Titmice usually are shy around us.  This one, on contrast, stayed put even though we were pretty close when we noticed it.  The titmouse was intent on getting into an enlarged part of the stem of a blueberry plant.  It went at the spot with a great physicality bordering on violence, not something I think of when I see a titmouse. We watched it for more than ten minutes, my shutter clicking away (that usually scares off animals when that close).  It finally dropped to the ground after tearing apart whatever was attached to the stem, and pecked at something we could not see in the snow, then flew off.

Foamy insect egg case

After it left we took a look at what it was so determined to get into.  Below you can see the hole it made.  We had to look it up in Eiseman and Charney’s Tracks and Sign of Insects.  According to them this is the egg casing (called a ootheca) of a Chinese Mantis.  We have a few different kinds of mantis in the eastern US.  Each has a ootheca different enough to tell the species apart.  Mantis eggs overwinter in the ootheca, their parents having died when the weather gets cold.  They will emerge and instantly look for food in the spring.

The little bird got a good meal out of the hundreds of mantis eggs inside.  It was a hungry creature, calories are hard to come by this time of year and it takes a lot of them to get an animal weighing less than an ounce through a 2 degree night.

frothy insect sign

Often having a camera with me can disconnect me with the natural world a little.  And sometime, like this time, as I took pictures of the bird it slowed me down long enough to become determined to stay and see what the titmouse was doing and why.  Doing so gave us a cool mystery to solve when we got home.  Thanks Tufted Titmouse.