And even better, as I was attempting to snap a pic of the little lovelies, I was lucky enough to spot (and photograph, badly) a stealthy little larvae of the green lacewing. You can kind of see it perched on the edge of a petal in the picture below, it looks like a dark blob. Anyway, I can't tell you how happy I am to see one of these guys in the garden. Although tiny, they're easily identified by the zippy way they scurry across leaves and by their fiendish outerwear. Lacewing larvae eat by sucking the bodily fluids from the aphids and whitefly they catch amongst the leaves. They then attach the dried, empty exoskeletal leftovers to spines on their backs to create a gruesomely awesome camouflage costume. Sort of like a bizarre cross between a trophy wall and an invisibility cloak. Harry Potter eat your heart out.
In Queensland, where I grew up, you could find clusters of their cones in the soft dry soil under houses. Occasionally, I used collect them, gently scooping up the soil, cone and all and putting it in a container. Before long, my pet antlion would construct a new cone (really neat to watch) and lie quietly out of sight waiting for me to provide it with a steady supply unfortunate ants. It was a ghoulish but fascinating past time which I highly recommend to any curious backyard naturalist, large or small.
Lacewings in general (order Neuroptera) are a pretty cool bunch. Green lacewings belong to the family Chrysopidae. Their relatives in the Myrmeleontidae family, have a larval form known as antlions, which, for my money are pretty much the coolest pet a kid can have. Antions build conical nests in very dry fine soil or sand. The creature itself lies hidden under the sand at bottom of the cone which is cleverly engineered to have unstable sides that slip away at the slightest touch. Any small insect, usually an ant, that stumbles unwittingly into the trap is unable to gain purchase on the sloping sides and it slips down to the center and into the hungry jaws of the waiting antlion. Unlike its fashion-conscious cousins, the antlion has no use for the dried-out remnants of its finished prey so, once done eating it flicks the empty corpse fastidiously out of its nest. If you look closely at the outside of an antlion nest you can see the ground littered with black specks that used to be ants.
But back to my current garden and the baby green lacewings, which I suspect arrived in order to feed on the horrible infestation of white fly and spider mites we have at the moment. I was actually thinking of ordering a batch of lacewing eggs (white blobs on stalks, picture below) from a company called Bugs for Bugs, who send out predatory insects via the mail to help produce growers and gardeners control the pests in their garden. I still might order some (nothing quite as exciting as receiving live insects in the post!) but I'm overjoyed to see the little critters showing up on their own. Their fascinating approach to fashion and murderously efficient eating habits make them a delight to have in the garden. I'm also looking forward to seeing them develop into adults.
Because it's not only the laval lacewings that are voracious predators. The adult green lacewings also gobble up backyard pests like aphids and whitefly. They're much prettier than their baby incarnation though. In fact, the aptly named, adult lacewings, with their delicate green bodies, gauzy wings and metallic poppy seed eyes, are one of my most favourite flying insects. And with a bit of luck I'll soon have lots of them fluttering around, feasting on pests and laying their eggs on the underside of my plants, so the whole cycle can start again.
If you're curious to know more about the lovely lacewing, the Australian Museum website has a great info page, just click on through.
|What a little cutie! Photo from scienceblogs.com|