James Whitcomb Riley, a Hoosier poet, recognized a doodlebug when he saw one. In his poem “The Doodlebugs' Charm,” Riley revealed that it was his Uncle Sidney who introduced him to the unusual six-legged creature. What was the fascination?
Doodlebugs are strange-looking insects with large, flat heads and long protruding sickle-like jaws. This group of insects is classified in the neuroptera order which includes the familiar lacewings. Both lacewings and doodlebugs are predators on other insects.
Doodlebugs live in pits constructed of dry sand or dust. These pits can sometimes measure up to two inches wide at the soil surface. During construction the doodlebugs cleverly set traps by piling sand around the pits. Once inside their homes, the doodlebug eagerly waits for its meal to “drop in.” One by one insects traveling too close to the pits tumble to the doodlebug's dinner tables. Ants are frequently their victims, giving rise to another common name for doodlebugs, “antlions.”
Doodlebugs are more common in the south and southwest of the country. Their pits frequently are found in groups and in very dry conditions such as under buildings.
“To call ‘en up,” Uncle Sidney said, “'Doodle! Doodle! Doodlebugs!' An' they'd poke out their head—‘Doodle-Bugs! Doodle-Bugs! Come up an' get some bread!'”
With a little strategy and a whole lot of patience, you may be able to entice a doodlebug to show themselves. Instead of calling out their name, slowly push grains of sand into one of their pits. The curious and ravenous doodlebugs will be tempted to investigate what they think is their next meal.
If you encounter a group of hungry larvae, then perhaps like James Whitcomb Riley, you too, will discover the doodlebugs' charm.