How Physics Dooms Average Ants

A quirk of friction offers up ant meals to nightmarish antlion larvae.

By Michael Byrne | MOTHERBOARD

It sounds like a particularly clever feature of hell. You are almost, but not quite, reaching distance from safety as the mandibles of death-larvae threaten from just behind. Almost out of harm’s way, you lunge forward—but the ground below your feet gives. Every other push forward only pushes the earth backward. Safety is no closer as the ground becomes a stairmaster under your feet. Soon, you’re sliding backward and downward. The hell-creature at the bottom has its meal.

Of course, a lot of nature winds up sounding like different perspectives on hell—take parasitic wasps for example—but ants really do seem to have it bad. There’s that zombie fungus, for one thing, but consider also antlion death-pits. Here, a quirk of friction leaves ants vulnerable to a truly unpleasant end at the hands of larval antlions. This is what a larval antlion looks like:

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