Miniature predators strike in Suffolk

A TINY predator which kills its prey by grabbing it with a pair of long, pointed jaws and injecting it with poison before sucking out the liquified remains is coming to a beach near you.

A TINY predator which kills its prey by grabbing it with a pair of long, pointed jaws and injecting it with poison before sucking out the liquified remains is coming to a beach near you.

Suffolk's Sandling Heath sites are the only place in the UK where the vicious little antlion is found breeding, but those planning a trip to the seaside soon need not fear as the antlion is, in fact, only 1cm long.

The rare insect is the larva of a member of the lacewing family and can be found in holes at the bottom of small sand cliffs such as those at Sizewell, Walberswick and Westleton.

Suffolk Wildlife Trust's Sandling's manager Dave Mason said: "The antlion catches its prey in an angled pit which is dug in soft sand, so that the least disturbance sets off an avalanche.

"The unsuspecting woodlice or ant then slides to the bottom of the conical pit to meet its fate."

By July the antlion larvae are fully grown and spin a cocoon that looks like a sand ball.

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At the end of August, antlions emerge as winged insects, similar to dragonfly. They then fly into the treetops and survive just long enough to breed and lay their eggs in the sand.

Mr Mason said: "As the adults have a very brief life on the wing, the sand traps are often all that we see of them. Our monitoring method therefore depends on counting the visible traps."

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