An ant lion is the last thing an ant wants to see. Because, often, an ant lion is the last thing an ant sees.
Ant lions eat ants. They dig a pit in the sand, crouch at the bottom and wait for an unlucky ant to happen by. What ensues is a fight to the finish. The ant lion usually wins but the drama is worth watching. Ian Skelley calls it “one of nature’s wildest battles.” It’s a battle Skelley’s customers pay to watch.
Skelley is the founder of Pensacola, Florida-based Ant Lion Den, which sells the little bugs through the mail. It’s $9.95 for three.
Most of the customers are kids, who can learn something about insects and science — and the food chain — by filling a glass bowl halfway with sand, dropping in a few ants and waiting for the action to begin.
Skelley cautions his clients that it’s important the ants be the right ants. Harvester ants are too big for an ant lion to handle. And under no circumstances, he says, should you place a lone ant lion on a hill full of harvester ants.
Skelley started his business four years ago but says it’s still in the “hobby stage.” He brings in about $500 a month, with expenses around $200. One expense is a network of ant lion “wranglers,” who catch ant lions and send them to Skelley. He pays 20 cents for each ant lion and also pays for shipping.
Ant lions are available year-round, Skelley says. Aside from kids, he sells to schools, zoos, hands-on museums, teachers, and hobbyists. Most of them find Skelley on the Internet, at AntLionDen.com, which proclaims itself “the Web’s only place to buy ant lions.”
Skelley would like to share his ant-lion fascination with more people but says he has a limited advertising budget. So for now, his Web site does most of the work, appealing to his target audience — kids — with cartoon ant lions, information, and videos of ant lions making a kill.
Skelley knows who the stars of the show are. “People like ant farms and people like Zen gardens. But ant lions are way more exciting.”