Insects

Monstrous Engravings: Myrmecoleon!

odd ant

The Myrmecoleon is an animal from classical times and is found in Medieval bestiaries such as the Hortus Sanitatis of Jacob Meydenbach.  Also it is referenced in some sources as a Formicaleon, Formicaleun or Mirmicioleon—-all meaning “Antlion”.

There are two interpretations of what a Myrmecoleon is. In one version, the antlion is so called because it is the “lion of ants”— the larvae of the insect known as an antlion lacewing—- and hides in the dust and eats ants. In the other version, it is a beast that is the result of a mating between a lion and an ant(seriously?) It has the face of a lion and the body of an ant, with each part having its appropriate nature. Because the lion part will only eat meat and the ant part can only digest grain, the ant-lion starves. In my opinion, the above creature looks more like a pig with a beak and bird feet, pretty true to the engraving from which I drew it.
The ant-lion story may come from a mistranslation of a word in the Septuagint version of the Old Testament, from the book of Job. The word in Hebrew is laiisch, an uncommon word for lion, which in other translations of Job is rendered as either lion or tiger; in the Septuagint it is translated as mermecolion, ant-lion.