Beautiful Bugs: Lacewings
Have you ever spotted a dainty lacewing living in your garden and wondered if this delicate creature is a friend or foe?
The insect world is full of beautiful bugs (we’ve covered butterflies, ladybugs, and moths so far), and while they all play a vital role in the natural environment, some can also be harmful. Do lacewings fall into that category?
If you were an aphid, you’d say yes, since you’d be on the menu! But for gardeners and even farmers, lacewings are your friends. Read on as we learn more about the pretty, fairy-like creatures known as lacewings. Find out how to identify a lacewing in your garden, how many species there are, and what makes them notable bugs.
How to Identify a Lacewing
The most obvious characteristic of this flying insect is its transparent, lace-like wings streaked through with impossibly delicate green veins. (Maybe they sacrificed function for form, though, since they’re not great fliers.)
In Florida they’re more commonly known as green lacewings, with greenish bodies that measure up to an inch in length. (Brown lacewings are also native to Florida but are much less commonly seen.) The lacewing’s large eyes are a radiant golden color.
Lacewing larvae resemble caterpillars and have a slim, humpback appearance — along with the two massive mandibles (or pincers) in front. Their bodies are also covered with tiny bristles, onto which they stab the carcasses of their depleted prey and other detritus. (Incredibly hardcore.) This debris gives them handy camouflage against hungry birds!
If you look hard enough, you might find bunches of eggs hanging from plants in your garden. The female lacewing can deposit up to 200 eggs at once and always at night. Each egg hangs from a thin thread, usually under a leaf, close to where aphids live. When the larvae hatch, they use the thread to crawl up the leaf and start feeding.
What do Lacewings Eat?
Green lacewings are a wonderfully beneficial natural pest control method since they love nothing more than devouring aphids, certain caterpillars, scale insects, whiteflies, and mealybugs. They’re particularly vicious as larvae, also known as “aphid lions” or “aphid wolves,” for their willingness to eat almost any other insect with a soft belly! (They’ll even scrounge on each other if there’s nothing else to eat.)
While on the hunt, larvae will move around in a disorderly fashion, jerkily shaking their heads. When they spot their prey, they’ll lunge to grab it with their mandibles before injecting digestive juices into their prey, dissolving the organs in under 90 seconds.
Check out this YouTube video of lacewing larvae attacking a couple of aphids — watch until the end, it’s truly fascinating!
The adult lacewing is a nocturnal insect, coming out at night time to feed. Their diet consists of nectar, honeydew, and pollen. They’ll also eat aphids, mites, and other smaller arthropods.
Are Lacewings Dangerous to Humans?
With the larvae being such voracious predators, you can’t help but wonder if they’re dangerous to you or even your pets. While the larvae may bite you if you attempt to pick it up, they’re ultimately harmless.
Adult lacewings are also called the “stinkfly” because they can release a vile stink from their prothoracic glands. If you do handle one, watch out for the bad smell!
What Are the Benefits of Lacewings?
Their biggest benefit to gardeners and farmers is natural pest control. Lacewings are raised and sold as biological pest control agents and used to keep infestations of aphids, pesky caterpillars, and other nuisance pests under control.
The other benefit of lacewings is their adaptability to most environmental conditions. While they’ll feast happily on aphids, scale insects, and mealybugs, if those are not on offer, the lacewing will gladly feed on most other insects, their larvae, and eggs. Not being super picky makes them hugely beneficial for a wide range of pest management needs.
Ready to add these creatures to your pest control routine? You can order them online here! Homeowners can also attract local lacewings by planting desirable plants such as:
- Purple Poppy Mallow
- Queen Anne’s Lace
Try to avoid using too many chemical pesticides in your yard, as this will annihilate your helpful lacewing population as well as the bad guys. Talk to us at 386-673-1557 about a program that will get rid of your pests (until your lacewing population is maybe large enough to do the job for you!).
Did You Know?
The dainty appearance of lacewings belies their usefulness to the environment. Here are some more fun facts about the lacewing to prove what special and unique little creatures they are!
They have phenomenal hearing
Despite being such small and delicate creatures, the lacewing has exceptional hearing. Some species can detect the ultrasound calls from bats, causing them to snap their wings shut (even mid-flight) and drop to the ground to avoid detection. How’s that for some evasion?
They’re related to the Sarlacc from Star Wars
Well, sort of. Lacewings and antlions (the real-life inspiration for the Sarlacc creature) both belong to the same order Neuroptera, which includes “net winged” insects.
They’re not here for a long time, they’re here for a good time
Adult green lacewings live for three to four weeks depending on the environment and conditions. This means you’ll need to keep the population growing if you want to keep your garden pests under control.
Lacewings are not only a worthy candidate for our Beautiful Bugs feature, but are also incredibly beneficial creatures for homeowners. They play a valuable role as biological pest control agents and are beautiful to look at — well, after they grow out of their voracious larvae stage! Why not make your garden lacewing-friendly so you can benefit from these fascinating creatures?
Todd Stebleton is the owner and operator of Universal Pest Control, a family-owned business for over 25 years in Ormond Beach, Florida. He and his wife Natalie are proud to have built a company focused on conducting business with honesty and integrity: keeping customers first, protecting the environment, and providing trustworthy, personal service.
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