We explain all you need to know about the lesser-known cousin – brown lacewing, in the article below.
Lacewings are beautiful, golden-eyed insects that have thin wings with intricate vein networks. This gives them a lace-like appearance and, hence, their name. But the name actually includes a large variety of insects.
Taxonomically, all insects under the order of Neuroptera are “lacewings,” which also include Mantidflies and Antlions.
However, when used in regular speech, we only use them to refer to the commonly found brown and green lacewings.
In this article, we will explore the less commonly found brown lacewing. Unlike its green cousin, brown lacewings often get squished because they are confused with other similar-looking bugs.
What Are Brown Lacewings?
Lacewings are tiny insects – only 0.75 inches long that are commonly found in green areas.
They have large, golden eyes, a long segmented body, and thin, transparent veiny wings that are much larger than their body.
Over 5,000 different species exist, though the brown and green lacewings are the two most commonly found ones.
Interestingly both types of lacewings can be green and brown at different stages of their lives – it is hard to differentiate them purely on color. Let’s look at how to tell them apart in the next section.
How To Differentiate Between Brown and Green Lacewings?
Despite their names, one cannot simply distinguish between the brown and green lacewings based on color alone.
This is because an adult green lacewing can have a range of colors – from brown to gray to a reddish hue. Initially green, during fall, the green lacewings take on a brownish color.
One way to separate them as adults is to look at the three segments that make up their bodies.
Brown lacewings will have a longer neck. This is because the first segment of their body is more elongated than the other two, giving them a snakefly-like appearance.
Moreover, brown lacewings are burnt brown in color with papery thin brown wings, while green lacewings have more of a grayish shade of brown. The brown ones are also smaller in size than green lacewings.
Even in the larval stage, the two are virtually indistinguishable – except by behavior.
Both types of larvae move around in circular motions. The green lacewing larva can only move its head forward, but the brown lacewing larva can wiggle theirs from left to right as well.
Where Do They Live?
Lacewings are found across the world but are mainly concentrated in North America and Europe. The US itself boasts 90 different species of lacewings.
Generally, they are found in open, green areas with tall grass and lots of vegetation. They may reside within woody plants, shrubs, crops, and other landscaped spaces.
They avoid the hot and humid summers of the interior mainland and are concentrated near coastal areas. However, in Australia, they are distributed across the continent.
They are attracted to light and quick to take flight if disturbed. You can find them in both urban and rural areas.
What Do They Eat?
Lacewings eat both other insects and plant matter – though they definitely prefer the former. Their larva is found concentrated around the base of trees.
Here, they feed on their smaller invertebrates, spiders, wasps, aphids, and mites. They can also eat decaying vegetable matter, and some, like the sponge-eating lacewing, can feed on freshwater sponges.
Brown lacewing adults also feed on other insects and may occasionally drink nectar as well. Because of their habit of eating smaller parasitic spiders and mites, lacewings are considered generalist predators and are beneficial for crops.
They are commercially bred and released into agricultural gardens for the purpose of biological control of pests. They do not harm crops and plants.
What is the Lifecycle of A Brown Lacewing?
Lacewings lay their eggs in sites that are close to plenty of available food, such as insect-attracting plants and flowers.
Brown lacewing eggs can be distinguished from green lacewing eggs by a short disk present at the end of the eggs. Their eggs look similar to other insect eggs, such as those of syrphids.
Once the eggs hatch, the lacewing larvae start feeding and are active during both day and night time.
The larvae (or nymphs) go through three different instar stages and finally turn into pupa. Pupation generally happens over winter, as the larvae remain safe and warm within tree barks and nooks.
Adults emerge from the pupa and resume their journey to find food and mates. They are most active during the night and are not social.
The whole process lasts around one year. However, this timeline depends on how cold the place is, as, in warm climates, the entire lifecycle can be as short as six weeks with no pupation.
Where Do They Lay Eggs?
Both brown and green lacewing lay eggs along the stalks of green branches or in the topsoil layer of sandy areas. They either lay singular eggs or multiple batches which form large colonies. A colony can contain the eggs of other insects, such as syrphids.
Do They Bite or Sting?
Lacewings cannot bite or sting. But if disturbed, they clamp onto your skin with their jaws, which can lead to skin irritation in some people. They rest on leaves and get easily stunned by sudden movement.
The lacewing larva can also bite, though they do this mostly as a defense mechanism. Their bites are not dangerous and do not usually require medical attention.
Are They Poisonous or Venomous?
Lacewings are not poisonous to humans, and the bites of both larvae and adults are harmless.
It is rare to get a lacewing bite. Bites are usually a result of them perceiving you as a threat.
Lacewing bites are not dangerous as they do not infect humans with pathogens. But a large infestation could be bad for your crops as they sometimes do carry plant-based diseases.
Are They Harmful to Humans as Pests?
Lacewings are not considered pests. In fact, they are beneficial for getting rid of pests and keeping the mite and spider populations in your garden under control.
However, if you see them in large numbers, it could spell trouble. While they don’t harm plants, they might carry hosts for plant-based diseases, which could make your crops sick.
A commonly found bacteria that uses lacewings as a host is Rickettsia which can affect plants like clover and grapevine.
Are They Beneficial?
Lacewings are generalist predators. This means that they do not have a special diet but instead prey on any and all smaller invertebrates they see.
The list includes mealybugs, mites, parasitic spiders, caterpillars, aphids, whiteflies, and many more. Some adults also drink nectar, but they don’t harm or feed on plants.
This makes lacewings a great ally to have in gardens. They are a natural way to get rid of smaller pests without insecticide.
Can They Come Inside Homes?
It is possible that an adult lacewing can enter your home. In this case, the lacewing is probably attracted by the light, or it is looking for a warm and dry place to hibernate for the winter.
They are not harmful, and you can simply sweep, vacuum, or brush them out. If there are large numbers of them, it might be best to call pest control.
What Are Brown Lacewings Attracted To?
Brown lacewings are active at night. They are usually attracted to light. During mating season, males are attracted to pheromones.
You can attract them to your garden by having a good mix of pollen-producing plants that are the food source of lacewings.
How To Get Rid of Them?
Generally, lacewings in the garden are a good sign and do not need to be treated.
However, if you have them in large numbers to the point where they are a hindrance while gardening – you can get rid of them.
A simple way to get rid of lacewings is to target their food source. Their food source mainly consists of smaller invertebrates that are highly susceptible to insecticides.
You can get a systemic insecticide and spray it on your plants. This will kill smaller mites and aphids. With no food source, the lacewings will move on to greener pastures.
Interesting Facts About Brown Lacewings
- Lacewing larvae have an alligator-like appearance.
- The first larval or instar stages are highly active and mobile. They exhibit different types of head movements. However, later instar stages are less and less mobile.
- During courtship, to attract a mate, lacewings can create low-frequency vibrations using their abdomen. Consequently, the stalk on which the lacewing is resting can also vibrate.
- A single lacewing can eat more than 200 aphids or invertebrates in a week.
Frequently Asked Questions
Why do lacewings bite humans?
Lacewings do not generally bite humans. However, if mishandled or upon sensing danger, they will clamp their jaws onto the skin of the human, which can resemble a bite. This is not painful or toxic. Larvae are more likely to bite humans than adults.
Are lacewings better than ladybugs?
While ladybugs have long been the poster child of good pest-control insects, lacewings are actually better than them.
Lacewings consume smaller, soft-bodied insects at a 20 times faster rate than ladybugs. Mantises are also similarly helpful but not as popular.
Where can I buy brown lacewing larvae?
You can connect online with suppliers who specifically breed certain insects for biological pest control.
Brown lacewing larvae will keep your plants free of mites and, as adults, will be food for their natural enemies, such as dragonflies. All of these insects are equally important for a healthy garden ecosystem.
What is Brown lacewing’s scientific name?
The brown lacewing larvae are known as Hemerobiidae. The name Hemerobiidae encapsulates the entire range of brown lacewings species – all of whom have thin, veiny wings and small, long bodies. The green lacewing, on the other hand, is known as Chrysopidae.
Lacewings are friends, not foes. There is not much to fear from. These golden-eyed insects can greatly help crops by keeping a balanced ecosystem.
Though those engaging in gardening among tall grasses may find them to be an irritant as they mistakenly attack humans – they are best retained as a natural pest control agent.
Thank you for reading!
We hope you enjoyed reading all about the brown lacewing above. Many of our readers have sent us emails over the years, showing us brown lacewings that they found in the garden or else just sharing a bug picture to identify it, which turned out to be a beautiful brown lacewing.
Despite being as effective as the green variety at pest control, brown lacewings often do not get the love or respect they deserve. Do go through these emails and not make the same mistake as others have made!
Letter 1 – Brown Lacewing Larva
Attached please find several pictures of a bug that is very strange. It looks like an ant lion with carnage on its back. It has a very powerful bite with front jaws, but is only the size of an ant. It is camouflaged by pieces of other insects and debris that it sticks on its back. Found under an oak tree. Sorry about the pics, but they were taken with a digital camera looking through a magnifying glass. What is it?
Dave & Vickie
The Brown Lacewing Larva camoflauges itself with the remains of its meals.
Letter 2 – Brown Lacewing Larva
I stumbled across your website while trying to identify a bug I’ve sporadically seen since I was a kid. I never knew what they were, and after finally getting a good photograph of one I thought I’d try to identify it. Judging by one of the blurry photos on your site, I’d guess this is an Aphid Wolf, or as you say the larva of a Brown Lacewing. If I’m right, feel free to add this photo to your website. If I’m wrong, please enlighten me.
I guess even a blurry photo is better than no photo, but thanks to you, we now have a good photo of a Brown Lacewing Larva, or Aphid Wolf. They belong to the Family Hemerobiidae and the larvae sometimes carry debris around on their backs.
Letter 3 – Brown Lacewings
What’s this bug
I recently found many of these bugs in my apartment. It has been raining a lot recently and I’m not sure if that has anything to do with them being inside. I have included pictures of them but they are actually an amber color and transparent. They fly and seem to be attracted to the light. Please help me identify them so I can get rid of them!
Eric Eaton wrote to us identifying these images as “brown lacewings (family Hemerobiidae, order Neuroptera). Larval brown lacewings prey on aphids, so they are nice insects to have around.”
Letter 4 – Brown Lacewing
Subject: Flying insect in house Location: Atlanta, GA December 19, 2012 11:24 pm Please tell me this is not a termite. I have seen two in two days, during a warm spell in Atlanta, GA. Both have been crawling inside the house at night, one on a wall near a light source, the other on a lampshade. They are about a quarter of an inch long, with wings maybe closer to 5/8”. Thanks! Signature: G. Webb Dear G. Webb, This is not a Termite. It is a predatory Brown Lacewing in the family Hemerobiidae. According to BugGuide: “Adults and larvae predaceous. Homopterans, such as aphids, are favorite prey.”
Letter 5 – Brown Lacewing
Subject: Spring fishfly or termite? Location: Philadelphia suburbs May 13, 2016 8:56 am I found this little fellow on my (often damp) fireplace wall and panicked about termites. This 1920 stucco house has had its share in the past. But the long antennae don’t look like termites, and the wings look like a spring fishfly, which I learned about on your site. What’s your take on this winged insect? Signature: Deborah Dear Deborah, The Spring Fishfly is a much larger insect than your beneficial, predatory, Brown Lacewing. You can compare your image to this image on BugGuide. According to BugGuide: “Adults and larvae predaceous. Homopterans, such as aphids, are favorite prey.” Daniel, Thank you so much. I am normally not a fan of the predacious among us, but this one sounds very nice. Deborah Fries
Letter 6 – Brown Lacewing
Subject: Many At Porchlight Nightly Location: Fredericksburg June 23, 2017 9:27 am These bugs….I gave a measurement scale with my finger. They are at my porch light nightly and seem very dull looking until a photo enlarges them. This photo was taken June 23 in Fredericksburg, Va. at 2:00 AM or so (When they seem to be more apt to come to the light). I’m sure that they’re VERY common, I just don’t know what they are…..All my pics are night time porch light pics. Little fellows are very beautiful. Thanks………………………………………………………………
Letter 7 – Brown Lacewing
Subject: Tan Winged Bug Geographic location of the bug: Tujunga, CA Date: 01/08/2019 Time: 11:56 PM EDT Your letter to the bugman: I’ve been seeing these bugs in my house recently hanging out in the corners where the ceiling meets the wall. How you want your letter signed: James Dear James, Though your image lacks critical sharpness, we are relatively certain this is a Brown Lacewing, a beneficial predator.