Skip to main content

Antlions are sensitive to subnanometer amplitude vibrations carried by sand substrates


The antlion larvae (Myrmeleontidae) are ambush predators. They detect substrate-borne vibrations induced by the movement of the prey. European pit-building antlions (Myrmeleon inconspicuus) are studied for their ability to perceive vibrations generated by the locomotion of an ant (Cataglyphis cursor) outside the pit. These strides have been recorded and copied in detail in their time sequences. The signal created was emitted by piezoelectric transducers placed several centimeters outside the peripheries of the pits: the ant movements create waves with particle accelerations that are three orders of magnitude less than g, alleviating any possibility of sand avalanche towards the bottom of the pit. Depending on the amplitude of the vibrations, the antlions answer back, generally by sand tossing. One remarkable feature is the time delay between the start of the cue and the predatory behaviour induced by this cue. This time delay is studied versus the cue amplitude. We found that antlions answer back within minutes to cues with amplitudes of nanometer range, and within seconds to these same cues if they are preceded by a sequence of signals at the Ångström amplitude. This difference in latency is used to evidence the sensitivity to vibrations at an extremely low level.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.

Fig. 1
Fig. 2
Fig. 3
Fig. 4
Fig. 5
Fig. 6
Fig. 7
Fig. 8


Download references


We thank Pierre Tillier for indicating antlion locations in the forêt de Fontainebleau, Dušan Devetak for his precious help in the identification of the antlion species, Claudie Doums for providing Cataglyphis cursor ants, Paul Devienne for technical support, Karen Hollis for fruitful discussion, Fabrice Savarit and Patrizia d’Ettorre for academic support and Heiko G. Rödel for his contribution in the statistical analysis. This work was supported by the BQR 2014/2015 from the Université Sorbonne Paris Nord. V.M. acknowledges the support of the École doctorale Galilée - Université Sorbonne Paris Nord. Experiments complied with the principles of Laboratory Animal Care.

Author information

Authors and Affiliations


Corresponding author

Correspondence to Vincent Lorent.

Additional information

Publisher’s Note

Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.

Electronic supplementary material

Below is the link to the electronic supplementary material.

Supplementary file1 (PDF 1234 kb)

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Check for updates. Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Martinez, V., Nowbahari, E., Sillam-Dussès, D. et al. Antlions are sensitive to subnanometer amplitude vibrations carried by sand substrates. J Comp Physiol A 206, 783–791 (2020).

Download citation

  • Received:

  • Revised:

  • Accepted:

  • Published:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI: