Lacewings: The Lacy Insects with a Voracious Appetite
Lacewings are a group of insects that belong to the order Neuroptera, which means “nerve-winged”. They are named for their delicate and intricate wing venation, which gives them a lacy appearance. Lacewings are found all over the world, and there are about 6,000 species in 17 families. The most common lacewings are the green lacewings (Chrysopidae) and the brown lacewings (Hemerobiidae), but there are also other types of lacewings, such as antlions, owlflies, mantidflies and dustywings.
Lacewings are usually nocturnal or crepuscular, and they feed on nectar, pollen and honeydew. Some species also have symbiotic yeasts in their digestive tract that help them digest these substances. Lacewings have golden or copper-coloured eyes that reflect light, and long antennae that help them sense their surroundings. Some lacewings can also produce a foul-smelling secretion from their prothoracic glands when threatened, which is why they are sometimes called stinkflies.
Lacewing eggs are laid on slender stalks that protect them from predators and cannibalistic larvae. The larvae are specialised predators that use their elongated mandibles to pierce and suck the body fluids of their prey. They feed on aphids, caterpillars, insect eggs and other soft-bodied arthropods. Some lacewing larvae also carry debris or dead bodies of their victims on their backs with hooks or bristles, which serves as camouflage and protection. Lacewing larvae spin silken cocoons on leaves or other substrates before pupating. The pupal stage lasts for about two weeks, after which the adult lacewing emerges.
Lacewings are beneficial insects that help control pest populations and pollinate plants. They are also indicators of environmental health and biodiversity. Lacewings are fascinating insects that deserve more attention and appreciation for their beauty and role in nature.
Antlions: The Cunning Pitfall Trappers
Antlions are a group of insects that belong to the family Myrmeleontidae, which is part of the order Neuroptera. There are about 2,000 species of antlions, and they are found all over the world, especially in dry and sandy habitats. Antlions are known for their remarkable larvae, which dig pits in the sand to trap ants and other small insects. The adult antlions are less conspicuous and resemble dragonflies or damselflies.
Antlion larvae are also called doodlebugs, because of the spiral trails they leave in the sand while searching for a suitable spot to dig their pits. The pits are funnel-shaped and range from 2.5 to 7.5 cm (1 to 3 inches) wide at the edge and 2.5 to 5 cm (1 to 2 inches) deep. The larvae use their oval, sandy-gray abdomen as a plow and their large square head as a shovel to excavate the sand and throw it out of the pit. When the pit is finished, the larva buries itself at the bottom, with only its sickle-like jaws exposed.
When an ant or another insect slips over the edge of the pit, it falls to the bottom and is seized by the antlion’s jaws. The antlion injects digestive enzymes into its prey and sucks out its body fluids, leaving behind an empty husk that it tosses out of the pit. The antlion larva can also flick sand at its prey to knock it down or prevent it from escaping. The larvae feed and grow for several months or years, depending on the species and environmental conditions.
When the larva is ready to pupate, it spins a silken cocoon mixed with sand grains and attaches it to a plant or a rock. Inside the cocoon, the larva transforms into a pupa and then into an adult antlion. The adult antlion has four narrow, delicate wings with a complex network of veins, short clubbed antennae, and golden or copper-coloured eyes. The adult antlion does not feed and lives only for a few weeks or months, long enough to mate and lay eggs.
Antlions are beneficial insects that help control pest populations such as aphids and termites. They are also indicators of environmental health and biodiversity. Antlions are fascinating insects that demonstrate remarkable adaptations and behaviors for survival.