The Fantastic 5 – Beneficial Bugs: The lacewing fly

    
lacewing, lacewings, flying insects, beneficial insects

An insect that preys on other insects – now that is what I call a beneficial bug!

by Jason Johnson

The final bug in our list of beneficial bugs is definitely the least known bug on the list. I wasn’t going to write about this bug because of my lack of information, but upon doing some research I realized that these bugs definitely deserved a spot on this list.

Sure, there are other cooler bugs like dragonflies and spiders that I could have written about, but I feel like the humble lace winged fly deserves its shot in the spotlight as well. So here goes; let’s see if I can make this bug look good.

Prey

Lacewings, while not as popular in reputation as the rest of the fantastic 5, are every bit the predator that some of our heroes are. Ironically, plant eaters don’t have much to fear from the fully grown lace wings. It is the babies that are really not to be messed with. With a nickname like “aphid lions” and with a striking resemblance to the alligator, these bugs are vicious.

While fully grown lacewings are peace-loving and generally live off pollen and sweet nectar (I suppose it’s their version of going vegan after they’ve had their share of meat as children), the larvae on the other hand are not as noble. Their diet consists mainly of other insects such as spider larvae, insect eggs, caterpillars and a whole host of other bugs.

As if this isn’t wild enough, these infant monsters are not opposed to cannibalism. These babies have no issue on turning on their own kind and have been known to even eat adult lacewings when there’s nothing else to munch on.

Super powers

When it comes to super powers, larvae lose most of their awesomeness when they morph into grown-ups. The most extreme thing the lacewing does as an adult is emit a nasty smell when it’s under the attack. This is not even unique anymore, as even the common housefly can fly and most humans emit funny smells when they are under attack. Big deal…

Baby lacewings on the other hand come fully equipped with a strong set of pinchers that looks a lot like ice tongs. They use alligator-like jaws to grab prey much larger than they are and then they inject them with potent venom that leaves them paralyzed. Pure evil I you…

These monster toddlers then go about literally sucking the life out of their prey by drawing the fluids out of their bodies essentially leaving them dried out shells (I am enjoying this more than I should. It’s like a bad horror movie).

One last thing that I absolutely deem a super power, an ability that I myself possess, is that aphid lions are so named because they have an insatiable appetite. They devour about 200 victims a week and once they’ve tired of eating the odd insect – as mentioned previously – they will turn their attention to their siblings.

How does the old saying go? “It’s all fun and games until your baby brother takes a bite out of your back!” I made that up, but you get the point.

When the mother lacewing lays her eggs she actually has to lay each egg on a separate strand of silk to make sure that they don’t eat each other upon hatching. Time outs don’t work for these brats, if they don’t get their way they’ll simply eat their parents as well.

Natural Enemies

Lacewings are regularly preyed on by spiders and small reptiles like frogs and lizards. Apparently, there is some beef between them and ants, but I can’t confirm that at this point.

I am assuming the above creatures prey specifically on adult lacewings because I don’t believe that any creature would attempt to prey on baby lacewings. This may be my own bias, but during the writing of this blog I have developed an admiration with these awesome creatures. I have now taken to calling them the Chuck Norris’s of the animal kingdom. I feel like this is an appropriate title for this group of rebels.

Kryptonite

As upsetting as it is, these baby ninja insects are, like most other insects susceptible to pesticides, specifically general or blanket pest control methods. Most farmers and gardeners welcome lacewings into their crops. This is specifically true of larvae as this is the only time they are completely predatory.

Instead of chemically altering the delicate ecosystem and possibly destroying generations of beneficial bugs many farmers have taken to luring lacewings into their crops and gardens. In fact, lacewing eggs are actually available to purchase and be used as an alternative pest control method. The best part of it all is that once they’ve killed all pests around your garden, they’ll eventually start killing one another, thus always maintaining some sort of balance. How cool is that!

Final word on lacewings

Well there you go – the final bug of the dream team, the fantastic 5. Some are vicious predators and some can actually be directly linked to the survival of the human race. Some can fly and some even use camouflage – to me they are just all amazing.

I found myself in awe after writing each and every one of these blogs. Amazed at how intricately these bugs are designed and how specific some of their abilities are to their survival. One thing is for sure, I have developed an entirely new fascination with insects that will probably extend way past the writing of these blogs.

 

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