You’ve probably heard lacewings mentioned many times when discussing beneficial insects for your garden. But, do you know what lacewings look like? Do you know what lacewings larvae look like?
Lacewing insects have four delicate translucent wings laced with veins. Their front and hind lacy wings are usually equal in size, depending on the genus.
Typical of many insects, they have 3 body segments. The first is the head, which boasts two long antennae for finding food. Attached to the head is the thorax, and then at the end is the abdomen. With 6 legs, it can grow up to 20mm long, boasting a wingspan of up to 40mm.
The way some lacewings lay and protect their eggs is very distinctive. For instance, the green female lacewing lays each white oval-shaped egg on a hair-like thin silk strand that they attach to the underside of leaves.
Lacewing larvae look nothing like their adult versions, however. Just look at this photo to get an idea of how different lacewing larvae are from their adult forms:
Are All Lacewings Green?
Depending on the subspecies, the two most common lacewing are either lime-green or brown. The bright green one is from the Chrysopidae family, and the brown one is from the Hemerobildae family.
The more common variant is the green lacewing, which is almost iridescent as it flies around at night as an adult.
It has golden, or copper-coloured compound eyes.
They will be familiar visitors to any urban garden that grows sweet nectar plants because the adults feed on honeydew and nectar. Though in colder months, the green adult can turn a pinky-brown but remains a part of the Chrysopidae family.
It isn’t simply the colour that separates them into different genera. An adult green lacewing has a hairier wing than the brown species. It also has more veined patterns that spread throughout the membrane of its wings.
Equally, the green larvae are also hairier than their brown counterparts, as this is the way they collect their disguises. Both will predate bugs and insect eggs, killing and similarly digesting their prey.
The adult brown lacewing is a little smaller than its green relative, growing up to 10mm long. It may also have dark spots on its light or dark brown wings.
The body can be black, or even a dark yellow, turning a greyish-brown in colder months. One of the most prominent differences is that it doesn’t lay its eggs on the end of long strands.
The larvae of brown and green lacewing are also different. The green larvae are bigger in the thorax, but the brown has a longer prothorax which seems to lend it a neck-like segment, which the green larvae do not have.
They also differ in the shape of appendages on their feet.
Both larvae are veracious feeders. If you were to watch them moving, you might notice another difference between the families. The green larvae move their head forwards in the direction they are hunting.
Whereas the brown larvae may look like it is nodding its head from side to side.
The behaviour of a brown lacewing can also be different from that of a green one. For instance, a brown lacewing can jump, and the brown larvae don’t poop until they become adults with wings. Instead, they have developed a silk spinning abdomen that can stick to leaves and twigs when they shed their skins as they grow.
Is a Lacewing a Moth?
At a fleeting glance, you can be forgiven for thinking the lacewing has a moth-like appearance, most especially the brown ones.
After all, the adults are nocturnal, the same as most moths. However, the lacewing does not belong to the Lepidoptera order of insects, as does the moth.
The most significant difference is that the lacewing does not have scales on its wings as a moth does.
If you come across the term moth lacewing, it refers to a rare and primitive species and not the common contemporary lacewing. These can be found in places like the Himalayas. They still belong to the Neuropteran family, but it is further subdivided into the Rapsima genus family, so is not a moth.
Others even liken the lacewing to a smaller version of a dragonfly because they have 4 wings, but that is also incorrect. Dragonflies belong to the Odonata order, which is not the same insect group as lacewing.
What Varieties of Lacewing are there?
Worldwide there are known to be up to 6,000 varieties of the neuropteran family. We have only concentrated on the genus of Chrysopidae (green) and Hemerobildae (brown) so far. There are many, many other fascinating genera.
The family of Dilaridae, also known as the pleasing lacewings, are brown and live mainly on the bark of trees.
The family of Berothidae, also known as beaded lacewings, are found in tropical regions. The eggs are laid on wood and the larvae will prey on termites. Interestingly, they produce a gassy pheromone (allomone) from their anus. The chemical affects the behaviour of other insects and is a handy defence mechanism.
There is even a giant version known as the Polystoechotidae family, another variety of lacewing which is often mistaken for a moth. It can grow up to 50mm in length. This genus is understood to be the most primitive and rarest of the lacewing order and prefers dry desert-like environments.
Other unusual variations of the lacewing insects are antlions, also known as doodlebugs. That is because of the patterns the larvae make in the sand as they hunt. The mantidflies genus of lacewing has a similar look to a praying mantis due to its large forelimbs.
Whichever lacewing you manage to study or observe, they are a most fascinating species, and best of all, they are suitable for the environment.
Lacewings are pretty distinctive insects in the garden. They have long, often green, slender bodies with large lace-like wings. The wings are usually the length of the body, if not a little longer.