The Common Lacewing

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A green lacewing. Isn’t it stunning? The looping cellophane wings, the extravagant antennae, the eyes a pair of shining beads. And that streamlined body–in all the world, could there be a truer green? Imagine taking flight with those diaphanous wings, sailing into darkness with see-through tackle. Maybe, with lives this brief, beauty pre-empts sturdiness.

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Adult lacewings are nocturnal and fairly passive; most feed on nectar, pollen and honeydew. At some point during their four-to six-week lives, they find a mate, touch antennae, mingle mouthparts, and finally join abdomens, jerking and vibrating in a vertical position. The female soon lays 100 to 200 eggs on foliage, ideally with plenty of aphids nearby. Each dainty white egg is secured at the end of a filament about a half inch in length. After a few days the eggs hatch, molt, and the emerging larvae climb up the stalks and into the sunshine. Immediately they start feasting on whatever they can find: aphids, mites, caterpillars, other small bugs and eggs. These creatures are so proficient at dispatching aphids that lacewing eggs are shipped to gardeners and farmers for use as biological pest control.

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Unlike humans, who are most comely in their youth, lacewing larvae are not what we’d call attractive. Their humpback bodies are swollen in the middle, and tufts of bristles protrude from their sides. These bristles are neither armor nor adornment. They are there to help secure dead victims and other debris to the backs of the larvae. As the gruesome collection grows, it serves as camouflage from birds and other predators, while offering the host cover for hunting.

Green Lacewing Nymph (Chrysopidae)

Lacewing larvae tend to swing their heads from side to side as they search for food, seizing what they find with their strong mandibles and injecting it with paralyzing venom. The hollow jaws then draw out the body’s fluid, after which the corpse is tossed onto the heap of other luckless prey. Occasionally these rapacious predators, also called aphid lions and aphid wolves, will even bite humans. In two or three weeks nature cues them to stop eating and start spinning cocoons, from which adult lacewings appear five days later to repeat the cycle.

Fearsome youth or fragile beauty–makes no difference to the common lacewing, who is always both, forever coming, forever going, a crawler with notions of flight, a flyer with flashbacks of sunshine.

Photo by mbrochh on Foter.com / CC BY-SA
Photo by dreed41 on Foter.com / CC BY-NC-SA 
Photo by Pasha Kirillov on Foter.com / CC BY-SA
Photo by Marcello Consolo on Foter.com / CC BY-NC-SA

Published by

Jean Ryan

Jean Ryan, a native Vermonter, lives in Lillian, Alabama. Her stories and essays have appeared in a variety of journals and anthologies. She has also published a novel, LOST SISTER. Her short story collections, SURVIVAL SKILLS and LOVERS AND LONERS, are available online. STRANGE COMPANY, a collection of short nature essays, is available in paperback as well as digital and audio editions.

8 thoughts on “The Common Lacewing

    1. Thank you, I feel the same way. I will never get over my fascination with magicicadas who emerge from the ground after 17 years, nudged by a magic clock.

  1. Salaam from Udaipur! I wish you had been my English & Science Teacher when I was a lad. You make everything you write about far more interesting than I could ever hope for and calls up my curiosity to learn more because of your eloquent writing. Brava, JR! Question, please: R & I both read and enjoyed your story in Of Burgers & Barrooms while traveling. Where would you like us to leave the book?, here at the Hotel on Lake Pichola or at our next destination in Goa? I leave books and often clothes behind when I travel. Where would you like your story to be read in this book? Your call. Xoxo

  2. From Tim

    > Begin forwarded message: > > From: Tim Delorey > Subject: Re: [New post] Defending Alabama > Date: February 1, 2018 at 9:42:10 AM PST > To: cbcraneservice@sbcglobal.net > > Thank you! It’s almost like many people have no idea that there are 50 states (of which I’ve visited 46) and all have a special beauty all their own. We just visited Southern California and I can tell you that while it was a beautiful area in Jamul, we couldn’t wait to get home. Well said, thank you for sharing. > > >

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