Common Name: Lacewings / Antlions / Dobsonflies / Alderflies / Snakeflies
Greek Origins of Name: Neuroptera is derived from the Greek word “neuron” meaning sinew and “ptera” meaning wings. The modern English translation “nerve-wings” is appropriate because it alludes to the extensive branching found in the wing veins of most Neuroptera.
Development: Holometabola i.e. complete metamorphosis (egg, larva, pupa, adult)
Taxonomy: Neuroptera is divided into three suborders:
In adults, the suborders are distinguished by the shape of the wings and the length of the prothorax. In larvae, the suborders are separated by habitat and characteristics of the mouthparts.
Distribution: Common worldwide, but seldom abundant. Aquatic species are frequent inhabitants of streams and rivers. Approximately 15 families and 349 species in North America and 21 families and ~5,500 species worldwide
The order Neuroptera includes the lacewings and antlions (suborder Planipennia), dobsonflies and alderflies (suborder Megaloptera) and snakeflies (suborder Raphidoidea). “Splitters” prefer to assign each of these groups to a separate order (Neuroptera, Megaloptera, and Raphidioptera, respectively), based on differences in structure and development.
The Megaloptera are always aquatic as immatures. They live under stones or submerged vegetation and feed on a variety of small aquatic organisms. Large species, often called hellgrammites, may require several years of growth to reach maturity. Adults usually remain near water, although they are attracted to lights at night. In most species, the adults live only a few days and rarely feed.
Except for larval spongillaflies (family Sisyridae) which feed on fresh-water sponges, all members of the suborders Planipennia and Raphidoidea are terrestrial. Antlion larvae live in the soil and construct pitfall traps to snare prey. Lacewing larvae are usually found in vegetation where they typically feed on aphids, mites, and scale insects. Snakefly larvae live in leaf litter or under bark and catch aphids or other soft-bodied prey. In most cases, the adults of these insects are also predators — the non-predatory species usually feed on nectar, pollen, or honeydew.
The larvae of antlions and lacewings have specialized mouthparts with large, sickle-shaped mandibles and maxillae that interlock to form pincers. Once impaled on these pincers, a prey’s body contents are sucked out through hollow food channels running between the adjacent surfaces of the mandibles and maxillae.
As adults, all neuropterans have two pairs of membranous wings with an extensive pattern of veins and crossveins. At rest, the wings are folded flat over the abdomen or held tent-like over the body. Most species are rather weak fliers.
Appearance of Immatures:
Appearance of Adults:
Larvae of Megaloptera are important predators in aquatic ecosystems. They also serve as food for fish and other aquatic vertebrates. Lacewing larvae are beneficial as predators of agricultural pests (aphids, whiteflies and scale insects). Some species are reared and sold commercially as biocontrol agents.
Suborder Megaloptera — aquatic predatory larvae
Suborder Raphidoidea — terrestrial predatory larvae
Suborder Planipennia — mostly terrestrial predatory larvae
The common green lacewing (Chrysopa carnea) is a predator of aphids in both its adult and larval stages. This beneficial insect is recognized as an important biological control agent throughout much of the world. The stamp pictured here is one of 16 insect stamps issued in 1992 by Montserrat, one of the Leeward Islands in the British West Indies.