Well, it’s October and that means at least one thing: creepy creature columns and photos.

Now, lacewings are very beneficial and not very creepy, but the larvae of these insects are just out-of-this-world bizarre.

The adult green lacewing is a dainty, delicate-looking insect, and is known as a gardener’s friend.

Later on, columns on different species of lacewings will be featured, but for now, we’ll just focus on the larvae and lacewings in general.

I find the weird world of lacewing larvae to be extremely fascinating. And I’m still learning about these creatures, so I will report what knowledge I’ve gathered so far.

Lacewing larvae create camouflage in a most unusual manner. They cover themselves in all sorts of items including plant material, and, get this, the exoskeletons of past victims. Yikes!

Although somewhat knowledgeable about lacewings, and having seen photos of larvae, sans camouflage, I had never seen one with a bunch of junk on its back before a year or so ago.

That is until one night when, after stepping outside on the back porch, I noticed a tiny pile of “garbage” moving across the soffit of my house.

After looking away, then rubbing my eyes, I looked again. The little pile of garbage was indeed moving. It wasn’t my imagination run amuck!

After quickly grabbing some equipment to get a much closer view, it was clear that there were carcasses of dead insects stuck to the bug, which turned out to be a lacewing larva.

In Oklahoma, we have the brown lacewing, and several species of green lacewings, which are common.

Wolf in sheep’s clothing

According to entomologists, lacewing larvae pile junk on their backs to protect themselves from predators, but also, and perhaps the more important reason, to create a “wolf in sheep’s clothing” effect.

The preferred prey of lacewing larvae -- sometimes called aphid-lions -- are aphids. And aphids are often protected by ants. Ants act as shepherds and “farm” the aphids. The reason they do this is to collect a sugary secretion produced by aphids known as “honeydew.”

Ants know that when lacewing larvae are near, they’re there to eat the aphids, so the ants will kill the intruders.

Carcasses of past victims and other pieces of organic debris make a great disguise for hunting aphids.

Description

Lacewing larvae kind of look like flat caterpillars with six legs, are brown and white and grow up to a half-inch in length. Their bodies are about two to three times as wide as their heads. However, when they are covered with debris, they are often much wider (see photo).

They have large sickle-shaped mandibles to feed on their prey. The mandibles are strong, but hollow. Through them, the larvae inject enzymes into prey to liquify the insides, then consume the contents, also through the mandibles.

Adult green lacewing are about three-quarters of an inch in length, are light green and have lacy wings (see photo). The eyes look like two hemispheres.

Adult brown lacewings are similar to green lacewings, but are brown in color.

Eggs and hatching

Green lacewings lay tiny white white eggs on long, thin stalks (see photo). There is a good reason for the stalks.

When an egg hatches, the larva that emerges is immediately hungry with a voracious appetite. The larva will eat just about any type of insect life it finds, including the eggs of its siblings. So, a mother lacewing places the eggs at the ends of the stalks to help keep the larvae from siblicide. However, it doesn’t always stop larger larvae (see photo).

This action also keeps the eggs protected from other insects. The stalks are made from silk, and harden quickly.

Larvae

The always hungry larvae begin eating as soon as possible. The process of junk collecting begins soon after hatching.

Larvae go through stages called instars. Once ready, a larva will pupate inside a small, round cocoon. After some time has passed, it will emerge as an adult.

Food

Larvae feed on soft-bodied insects -- like aphids -- but will also feed on caterpillars and some beetles.

Adults primarily feed on nectar and other fluids, but some species also consume small insects.

Editor’s Note: Randy Mitchell is a freelance writer and photographer. He has been an avid birdwatcher, nature enthusiast and photographer for more than 40 years. Reach him at rnw@usa.com.

Trending Video

Recommended for you