The Antlion by Steven L. Peck

Perched benignly on the sage
he mistook it for a damselfly €”so
softly were its wings folded against

its ripening body,
freshly emerged from a confining
pupal case. It seemed resigned

to die, as if it bowed to fate,
despite seeing clearly the trap

the butterfly net he wielded was a
destiny just too wide, too deep to
muster a pretense of escape.

Perhaps it remembered the ants.

This was an antlion adult, who,
(named coldly in Greek Myrmeleontidae)

as a young larvae built cone traps
in the ochre sand, teased from the
weathering canyon walls.

In those days, it lived as a wingless larva,
a monster with jaws almost as long as
its body, buried in the center
of an ideal earth-grain
vortex, where it waited for

a hapless feast to tumble
unaware into the cone of
sand, where its empty jaws
waited eagerly, patiently,
watchfully silent.

As the ants fought
blindly to escape,
spilling sand
across a vanishing
pheromone trail €”the trap’s clever
construction forcing the
beast’s struggles
to collapse the diabolical
topology towards the
vertex, coaxing the sentinel’s prey
to the center. To the place
where ant becomes antlion.

He tries to explain his
easy triumph
with the net,
into which he swept up the creature
for cataloging,
for science at its most
unforgiving blindness.

He imagines
that its mind was yet foggy €”its
wings not yet dry, it was freshly

awakened new into the world, like
a mythic God.

He stoops down and sees
its pupal case lying in
the red sand, being scavenged

by harvester ants. How odd it seems
that this fine sand was
once sandstone, which

in turn was once sand dropped
by an ancient and
forgotten river and is now used to
house ants €”

And there lying on the sand
an antlion pupal case, formed
from ant, being converted

back to ant,
necessary circles.


Steve Peck is an ecologist at Brigham Young University. Creative works include a novel:  The Gift of the King’s Jeweler (2003 Covenant Communications); a self-published novella  A Short Stay in Hell (reviewed  here and  here), a short science fiction story:  The Flaw in the Lord Harrington Scenario, published in  HMS Beagle (online journal by Elsevier); poetry in  Dialogue,  Bellowing Ark,  BYU Studies,  Irreantum, Red Rock Review,  Glyphs III,  Tales of the Talisman (in press), and a chapbook of poetry published by the American Tolkien Society called  Flyfishing in Middle Earth.   A version of “The Ant Lion” appeared in Glyphs III (2007), 141-143. He blogs at and has a faith/science blog called The Mormon Organon.