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Popular Culture

Overview

Antlions and doodlebugs appear throughout popular culture—broadly defined here as those products of society, whether artistic or industrial, which are most commonly associated with mass communication or production. Some references to antlions are simply tributes to the insect and reflect the shared experience of people from many cultures (see our section Antlion anecdotes). Other depictions are more fanciful: the antlion's name and behavior suggest monstrous images (see our section Bestiary: Creatures of Myth and Psyche), so it's no surprise that antlions have inspired the creators of video games and science fiction films.

The word "doodlebug" is particularly widespread, with several meanings unrelated to insects. Perhaps because of the childlike connotations (in meaning and sound) of "doodle," and the informality of "bug," "doodlebug" is a popular nickname and sometimes is used in the U.S. as a term of endearment for infants. Ironically, "doodlebug" was also the name the British gave to the German Flying Bomb, a terror-inducing weapon employed during World War II by history's most notorious enfant terrible.


Motion Pictures

  • Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan (U.S., 1982)
    Fans of the second Star Trek film will remember the "Ceti eels"—small but terrifying creatures that bear an unmistakable resemblance to oversized antlion larvae. The villain Khan uses Ceti eels as an instrument of torture and mind control: inserted into a victim's ear, the Ceti eel attaches itself to the brain stem, causing suggestibility—not to mention extreme pain, madness or even death!

    [Directed by Nicholas Meyer; written by Harve Bennett and Jack B. Sowards; production design by Joseph R. Jennings; art direction by Michael Minor. Paramount Pictures.]

  • Star Wars: Episode VI—Return of the Jedi (U.S., 1983)
    This episode of the Star Wars saga features the "Sarlacc," an enormous monster that "lives at the bottom of a deep sand hole called the Great Pit of Carkoon" where it lies in wait for its prey. The Sarlacc's behavior and habitat, if not its physical appearance, almost certainly were inspired by antlions. The Sarlacc even has its own folklore: victims suffer a prolonged death due to the creature's slow digestive process which may last 1,000 years.

    [Directed by Richard Marquand; written by George Lucas and Lawrence Kasdan; production design by Norman Reynolds; art direction by Fred Hole and James L. Schoppe. 20th Century Fox and LucasFilm Ltd.]

  • Enemy Mine (U.S., 1985)
    In this low-key science fiction film, a human (Dennis Quaid) and an alien (Louis Gosset Jr.) are enemy fighter pilots who become stranded on a strange, inhospitable planet. They are frequently threatened by a large, predacious, sand-dwelling creature that doesn't resemble an antlion in appearance but does use a sand pit to catch its prey. Instead of catching prey in its jaws, however, the creature extends a long, tentacle-like tongue out of the pit to seize its victim, then pulls it under the sand. Like an antlion, this sand monster expels the lifeless carcass from the pit when done eating.

    [Directed by Wolfgand Petersen; written by Barry Longyear and Edward Khmara; production design by Rolf Zehetbauer; art direction by Werner Achmann and Herbert Strabel. 20th Century Fox and Kings Road Entertainment.]

  • Tremors (U.S., 1990)
    The giant, carnivorous, worm-like creatures in this campy sci-fi monster movie may have been inspired by antlions. In a 2004 interview, the film's writer S.S. Wilson tells about observing antlions during hikes in the Mojave Desert (California) and writing down the experience in his journal.

    [Directed by Ron Underwood; written by S.S. Wilson, Brent Maddock, and Ron Underwood; production design by ivo Cristante; art direction by Don Maskovich. Universal Studios.]

Computer, Video and Other Games

SimAnt (U.S., circa 1992) is a science-based educational computer game in which users confront "treacherous antlions" while learning about ant biology and behavior.



© 1995 Phillip Eklund.
Used with permission.

In such "role-playing" computer and video games as Final Fantasy, Doodle Bug, Moria, and Sonic II, players do battle with several monsters—including antlions—in their quest for ever-higher scores.

Antlions are also encountered in Insecta (U.S., 1995), a fantasy card game designed by an amateur entomologist. The cover image at left depicts an imaginary arthropod composite of ant, nasutus termite, bee, grasshopper and beetle.


Popular Music

  • "Doodlebug" or "Song of the Doodlebug" (U.S., 1928)
    Echoing the children's rhymes of American antlion folklore, the lyrics of this song claim that a doodlebug can be enticed out of its hole by putting one's mouth near its pit and singing:

    Doodle, doodle, doodle. . . hop up bug!
    Doodle, doodle, doodle. . . hop up bug!
    That doodle jump up and look all around
    and doodle back in the ground.

    Originally performed by the Georgia Yellowhammers, the "Song of the Doodlebug" appears on several contemporary folk recordings, including:

    • Animal Folk Songs for Children, by Mike Seeger, Peggy Seeger, Penny Seeger, and Barbara Seeger (1992). "A collection of children's music that goes way beyond the confines of the medium, either in music, lyrics or spirit. . . these songs capture the playful and tricky nature of animals with words and clever musical accompaniment. . . a real family affair." [Dirty Linen] Includes the "Song of the Doodlebug."
    • Crawdads, Doodlebugs and Creasy Greens, by Doug Elliot (1995).
      Buy Crawdads, Doodlebugs and Creasy Greens now!
      Winner of the Notable Children's Recording Award, this disc "includes an incredible assortment of Native American legends, hilarious anecdotes, Appalachian tales, and spirited songs. Elliott offers listeners ways to use the cultural arts, storytelling, music, and cooking to more deeply experience, celebrate, and learn about the great outdoors." Includes the "Doodlebug Song."
  • "Song for My Ant Lion" (U.S., 1997)
    Written by experimental rock musician Eugene Chadbourne, this song is part of a larger composition called Insect and Western for Symphony Orchestra, Balinese Gamelan Orchestra & Jazz Band. During his 1997 concert tour Chadbourne performed the entire work, which includes such songs as "New Supply for Mud Daubers" and "The Emotional and Intellectual World of the Cockroach." A live recording of "Song for My Ant Lion" is available on the CD Worms with Strings.

    References:

    Hinson, Mark. 1997. Careful with that rake. Tallahassee Democrat Online. 14 November.

    Williams, Michael R. 1997. Buggy Facts. The Gloworm website. Vol. 5 no. 1. Dept. of Entomology & Plant Pathology, Mississippi State Univ.

Doodlebug Colloquialisms

  • "Doodlebug" self-propelled railroad passenger coach (U.S. and Canada, 1905-1960s)

    North American railbus.

    Photo © 1995 Paul R. Tupaczewski.
    Used with permission.

    "Doodlebug" was a derogatory nickname given to early passenger railcars or railbuses. These vehicles "doodled" slowly along local branch lines, making frequent stops; eventually they lost out to the faster and more comfortable automobile for local transportation (Duke and Keilty 1990). A few original cars still operate today (mainly for tourism), and many Doodlebug styles live on as scale-model trains reproduced for hobbyests.

    The Doodlebug nickname may have been inspired by the appearance as much as the slow speed of these vehicles (which were also called "skunk" and "galloping goose"). In his autobiography American blues musician David "Honeyboy" Edwards recalls: "A little diesel train run through there, a short run, just had one or two little coaches on it. On the front of the train was yellow and black stripes; it looked just like a bug. We called it the Doodlebug." (Roll your mouse cursor over the railbus picture to compare it with Patrick Bremer's antlion sculpture.)

    References

    Duke, Donald, and Edmund Keilty. RDC: The Budd Rail Diesel Car. San Marino, Calif.: Golden West Books, 1990.

    Edwards, David "Honeyboy." The World Don't Owe Me Nothing: The Life and Times of Delta Bluesman Honeyboy Edwards. Chicago: Chicago Review Press, 1997.

    Keilty, Edmund. Doodlebug Country: The Rail Motorcars on the Class I Railroads of the United States. Glendale, Calif.: Interurban Press, 1982.

    Letters to the editor from Matt Conrad, Cy Martin, Mark Simons and Evan Werkema. 1997.

  • "Doodlebug" flying bomb (Great Britain, 1944)
    v1-bomb

    Illustration of V-1 Flying Bomb ("Doodlebug").

    © 1997 Burl Burlingame, Pacific Monograph. Used with permission.
    "Doodlebug" was a nickname for the German V-1 Flying Bomb, a pilotless airplane used during WWII. During the summer of 1944 over 2,000 doodlebugs fell on London, killing and injuring thousands of people. Read a war survivor's memory of doodlebugs, and the New Zealand Fighter Pilots Museum's history of the Allied counterattack.

    Why was the V-1 called "doodlebug"? There are many anecdotal explanations, ranging from the buzzing sound of an English dragonfly to the name of a London striptease act (Brodie 1997). The loud, rasping noise of the V-1, also called a "Buzz Bomb," was almost certainly a factor; it's engine's open-close, open-close system created a duv-duv-duv-sound that Londoners would quickly learn to recognize (Johnson 1982).

    References:

    Brodie, Ian J. Letter to editor, 20 February 1997.

    Johnson, David. V-1, V-2: Hitler's Vengeance on London. New York: Stein and Day, 1982.

Products

  • ANT and LION electrical fuses, from Micron Guard, Inc. (U.S.)
  • Antlion postage stamp (Zimbabwe, 1995)
  • Doodlebug motor scooter, produced by Beam Manufacturing Co. (U.S., 1946–1949?)
    Produced in Webster City, Iowa, and distributed through Gambles and Western Hardware stores.
  • Doodle Bug pinball machine, produced by Williams Electronics, Inc. (U.S., 1971)
  • Doodlebug™ Cleaning System (U.S., 1970s - present)
    An industrial cleaning product from U.S manufacturer 3M.
  • Hatteras Doodlebug fishing lure (U.S., 1970s - present)


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