The Ant Lion and How Not to Be an Insatiable Leech | Opinion

Greetings, dear reader! And welcome to the only Harvard column that dares to ask: What if we sought our deepest, most profound life advice… from insects? Is that weird? No right? Right.

Over the next few months, we’ll be diving into the world’s most amazing insects and exploring the multitude of insights they offer. But be warned! Such a pursuit, though noble and rewarding, is not for everyone. So before I decide if this column is for you, I suggest you consider the following questions:

Do you think it would be fun to compare your peers to obscure insects? Have you ever felt that opinion pieces lack entomological references? Do you like to read great things?

If you said yes to any of these, then congratulations! We’re going to have a great time. If you haven’t, proceed with caution. My words will irritate you.


While researching organisms for this column, I came across a very interesting specimen. These wretched creatures spend their days in a self-constructed pit of never-ending desires, cunning, poisonous and fiercely competitive, waiting to suck the life out of anyone who crosses their path. As adults, they cannot sleep at night and develop a fatal attraction to shiny things. Yes, you guessed it! I’m talking about econo majors. Wait no. I meant ant lions. Definitely ants.

Known to scientists as “Myrmeleon formicarius” and to colleagues as “that poisonous b**ch,” the antlion begins its predatory life by burying itself at the bottom of a huge, homemade, downward spiral. Any unsuspecting ant that ventures nearby is immediately caught and poisoned. The antlion then begins the long and painful process of extracting the prey’s body fluid – that’s right, this bug literally sucks the life out of others. Once ready, it discards the lifeless carcass and waits for its next victim.

Though it’s most commonly found in arid, sandy areas, Harvard’s high-stakes (and sometimes carnivorous) environment provides the perfect breeding ground for ant lions. From openly competitive student politicians to hopeless Goldman Sachs, it’s easy to spot the combination of ambition, focus and drive that the insect is known for. And while ambition can help in moderation, our relentless pursuit of success inadvertently hurts those around us or makes us lonely and miserable. The ant lion can offer three important insights into our behavior.

1) Too often we hurt other people in our pursuit of success.

This can be done directly (sacrificing friendships in favor of networks created solely to advance our careers) or indirectly (working for wealthy companies that actively disempower millions of people). yep. Carcasses everywhere. And while we can all agree that harming people is bad, the immense privilege and opportunity afforded us as Harvard students means we have an even greater responsibility to help ensure the well-being of others. So if you don’t absolutely need to consult multi-billion dollar companies to make a living, don’t!

2) The shiny things we’re attracted to are probably deadly anyway.

Once adults, ant lions develop an inexplicable attraction to shining lights and spend countless sleepless nights fluttering towards them. Many have perished in this never-ending chase, and those who manage to survive always return dissatisfied. Is this behavior harmful? Absolute. Do anteaters care? no. For Harvard antlions, the danger is twofold, because if your only considerations are materialistic, chances are you’ll end up in a job you don’t like. And while it’s true that some financial people really like finance – they use words like “supply chain” and “market” (the non-grocery version) – it’s also true that a significant number of students who are on traditionally lucrative paths, totally miserable.

3) A fast and never ending rut makes us lonely and sad.

The antlion spends his days alone in a pit, plotting his next move. Sure, it’s really high on the food chain, but it’s also depressing. To avoid this fate, we must climb out of our pits, give up our predatory prospects, and befriend our fellow insects! This means taking a break from that 12-month MCAT study regimen and devoting time specifically to non-work activities. Go for a walk. Check a friend. Develop your secret passion for yodeling.

So now we can recognize ant lions. Sweet. But what happens when we discover one… in ourselves??? (Insert a dramatic sigh.) Don’t worry! The treatment is simple. First, walk up to a mirror, look yourself deeply in the eye, and yell, “I won’t be a flesh-eating leech!” as loud and passionate as you can. Once your roommate has panicked enough, you can try more advanced techniques, such as spending time helping others, choosing to pursue a career in public service, or making an effort to bring joy. By doing so, you might be able to avoid the ant lion’s miserable fate.

Mireya Sánchez-Maes ’24 is a joint concentrator in English and Theatre, Dance and Media at Currier House. Her “Insect Insights” column appears every other Wednesday.

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