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Tiny killers: the ferocious insect predators of Texas

When it comes to wild and strange creatures, Texas tops the list. Mountain lions and coyotes have a threatening appearance, but, in terms of behavior, most of our most ruthless killers are also the tiniest.

Ants are some of the most voracious predators in the nature kingdom, and Texas hosts a plethora of these tiny creatures. Not only is each individual ant equipped with a stinger, but ants use strength in numbers; hundreds of fire ants can take down a small dog. Most ants and bees communicate using chemical signals, or pheromones, as well as movements. Worker ants scope out food while soldier ants are better able to defend the colony and queen.

The animals that prey on ants are even more formidable. Antlions are insects with a gruesome appearance; in larvae, giant mandibles top a fusiform body with three pairs of spindly legs. Adults are winged and resemble dragonflies. Antlion larvae create paths in sand or soft dirt while looking for a good place to build their den. Once the antlion finds a suitable location, it builds a funnel-shaped tube which entraps unsuspecting smaller insects, like ants, and sucks them down into the jaws of the antlion larvae. The antlion injects its prey with a venom. If prey show any resistance falling down the funnel, the antlion will project sand and dirt at the struggling ants.

Tarantula hawks, a type of wasp, have one of the most painful insect stings in the world. Females seek out plump female tarantulas on which to lay their eggs. They sting the tarantula, rendering her unconscious, and drag her to her den or a specially-prepared nest. The tarantula hawk will lay one egg on the live tarantula and seal up the exit. Once the larva hatches, it slowly feeds off the tarantula, avoiding vital organs so she remains alive and fresh for as long as possible. Adult female tarantula hawks emerge from the nest, ready to feed on nectar and fruits. Often, fermented fruits will intoxicate the adults so much that flight patterns become erratic.



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