Thursday, February 10, 2011

Doodle Bugs

A post about a pet field mouse on the Frumpy Professor's blog prompted a memory of mine from my life while living in Tampa, Florida in the early 1960s.  The Professor wrote about his experience of finding a Field mouse and then convincing his parents to let him "bring it back to health".  He promised to let it go the following Spring.

I asked my parents once to save an injured bird from the obvious evil awaiting it should I let it go.  My request was shut down almost as quickly as I said it.  "Absolutely not!  We've been through that already with your brothers.........Get rid of it."

I was not aware of the saying "It is easier to ask forgiveness than ask permission."  I utilized it's wisdom anyway.  I took the poor critter in, hid it in my room and tried to nurse it back to health.  It died anyway.  Plus I was caught and the wisdom of that saying was lost in an instant, replaced by the wisdom of, "When I tell you to do something, you damn well better do it."  I remember some restricted to quarters time and extra chores followed in due course.

I then embraced the wisdom of, "Just don't get caught".  I had mixed results over the following years, fine tuning my efforts until the day I figured out that often "not getting caught" was more of my parents not saying anything until I pulled a more flagrant and obnoxious break in accepted conduct.

I continued to bring creatures home.  Some I got away with, some I did not.  Every snake I tried to keep under wraps always managed to escape and then all Hell would break loose.  I had better luck with the mole and the several lizards I befriended.  Though the night my dad stomped the life out of one gecko while trying to find the bathroom in the dark had maybe the most memorable consequences.  Corporal punishment and a school bus missing interrogation awaited me in the morning. 

Of all the illegal animals I kept finding and bringing home, the ones I remember best and the ones I successfully hid the longest was my colony of Antlions, or Doodle Bugs as they are often called in the South.

They existed in the soft sandy dirt under the eaves of our house in Tampa, Florida.  I first noticed their cone like pits in the dirt.  As any 10 year old would, I had to know why these pits were here.  I got down on my knees and really looked at them.  At first nothing.  At some point I must have watched an ant stumble into one of the pits.  As it struggled to scramble out, it's efforts only caused it to fall further into the pit until out of nowhere from under the bottom, a nasty looking creature struck in the blink of an eye and dragged the poor unfortunate ant to it's doom.

WOW!  Now that was cool.

For awhile I enjoyed my antlions outside where they lived.  I got so I could get them to come out through trickery.  I would tickle the sides of the pit with a twig or blade of grass and slowly move it down until ...........the claws came out and struck the twig.  It always made me jump.

I decided to capture one and take it inside with me.  I found a shoe box with a top and filled it with the dirt from under the eaves.  I caught an antlion and tossed him in the shoe box, and stuffed the the box under my bed.  I don't think I named him or her.  But for the next week or so I made this bug the focal point of all my spare attention. 

It quickly constructed a pit and took in the first ant offered.  I began to feed it an ant a day until I noticed many ants were going uneaten.  Instead of cutting back on the ants, I captured more antlions until I had at least 6 pits going 24/7 in that shoe box.  I would waste hours messing with their pits just to watch them re-build.  Eventually I found that an ant every other day for each pit seemed to be the right feeding schedule.

It all ended after about six months when my mom found the box and tossed it out.  She asked why I had a box of dirt under my bed.  I had learned by that time any answer but the truth would have been caught immediately, so I came clean.  Oddly, all she did was tell me to not say anything to my father.  No problem there.  My lips were sealed.  And my brief encounter with antlions came to an end.

When the Professor's post jogged this memory, I googled "antlion" to re-acquaint myself with them.  As usual multi thousands of hits popped up.  I even noticed that one can "buy" antlion farms on the Internet.  And my first thought was, "Well, that must have been the first million dollar opportunity I missed in my life."  I could have cornered the market if I had kept at it.



Randal Graves said...

Yeah, you really screwed up, but at least you didn't invest in the comic book sea horse industry.

The Blog Fodder said...

Those were neat little critters. I never knew there really were doodle bugs.

PipeTobacco said...


I am very glad you wrote an essay about the antlions. I liked the comment on my blog where you first mentioned them.... and appreciate the more detailed story of it here!

I looked up antlions as I was not particularly familiar with them after you mentioned them. They do indeed look fun and interesting.

Now... the last thing I wanted to say is that I personally do not think you were wasting your time setting up the boxes of antlions and watching them for hours on end. That is actually pretty much the way all biologists and biology professors start out... and typically behave through their lives. Damn, on second thought, perhaps that wasn't the best thing to reveal. :)

Beach Bum said...

LOL Randal! Had several civilizations of those things rise then get flushed down the toilet when I was a kid.

As for illegal animals I brought a corn snake into my grandparent's house when I was a teenager. My grandmother saw me playing with it about thirty minutes later and I swear to God she took a broom to my head and beat me out the house.

BBC said...

They sure ain't very purty.

BBC said...

All I recall having was a couple of mice and rats.

BBC said...

Trump dangles potential 2012 bid before CPAC

Just when I thought things couldn't get anymore weird, they did.

MRMacrum said...

Randal - No I didn't. But I did get sucked into the "100 stamps for a dime" scam. Before that little screw up was over, my father had to dish out almost $80 of my future allowance money.

Blog Fodder - What is really interesting is that the antlion is the larval stage of a flying insect that mostly eats pollen and nectar.

Pipe Tobacco - Somebody has to have taken notice of the things the rest of us never see. If not for the guys who study the minutia of our world, we would still be living in mud huts.

Beach Bum - I never understood and still don't understand human aversion to snakes, spiders and such. When the Boa I inherited from a kid moving away dropped down in front of my mom in the laundry room one morning, her response was much the same as your grandmother's. Jeez, they never stop acting like girls do they?

BBC - No, they are ugly little bastids. Sure glad they are only about 1/4 inch long.

Funny you should mention Trump - I was thinking the same thing.

Mr. Charleston said...

Sounds like a story right out of my childhood, only about 200 miles north and on the other coast. At one point in my adolescent years a buddy and I collected rattlesnakes and sold them to Ross Allen down at Silver Springs. Used to send them by Greyhound bus. If those people in the bus only knew...

MRMacrum said...

Mr Charleston - Far out. I used to sell Geckos to the local pet store. Paid me 25 cents apiece. There is a newspaper photo of me somewhwere in the memorabilia pile of me in my cub scout outfit with a gecko attached to each ear.

If there was one thing I loved about my time in Florida it was the various "Springs" scattered around the state. By far my favorite was Wakulla Springs up near Tallahassee. We lived there also.

Kulkuri said...

When I first saw the title of the post, I thought it would have to do about a contraption made from an old car.