Neuropterans are a fascinating group of insects that belong to the order Neuroptera, which includes lacewings, antlions, mantisflies, and owlflies among other lesser-known species. These insects are mainly terrestrial, with the exception of larval spongillaflies that feed on fresh-water sponges Order Neuroptera – ENT 425 – General Entomology. Known for their unique characteristics and intriguing behaviors, Neuropterans continue to captivate the interest of entomologists and nature enthusiasts alike.
Lacewings are perhaps the most recognized members within this order, identifiable by their delicate and intricately veined wings. Antlions, on the other hand, are known for their larvae, which create pitfall traps in the soil to capture prey. Mantisflies, as their name suggests, have a mantis-like appearance combined with features of a fly, while owlflies are easily mistaken for dragonflies due to their large, clubbed antennae and forward-facing eyes.
In addition to their diverse appearances, Neuropterans also exhibit a range of behaviors and provide various ecological benefits. For example, many lacewing species are considered beneficial insects, as their larvae feed on common garden pests such as aphids, ultimately helping to maintain a balanced ecosystem.
Overview of Neuropterans
Neuropterans are a group of insects belonging to the order Neuroptera. They include:
Some key features of Neuropterans are:
- Two pairs of membranous wings
- Prominent, compound eyes
- Long, slender antennae
Neuropterans can be further divided into two suborders: Hemerobiiformia and Myrmeleontiformia.
Neuroptera Order Classification
The classification of the order Neuroptera consists of:
- Phylum: Arthropoda
- Class: Insecta
- Order: Neuroptera
|Common Name||Green Lacewings, Brown Lacewings, etc.||Antlions, Owlflies, etc.|
|Larval Stage||Predacious, prey on aphids and other pests||Predacious, construct pitfall traps for prey|
|Wing Pattern||Usually have many cross veins in wings||Have fewer cross veins in wings|
Common Types and Families
Antlions, belonging to the family Myrmeleontidae, are known for their predatory larvae. These larvae create pitfall traps in the soil to catch prey.
Lacewings, from the family Chrysopidae, are beneficial insects. They feed on pests like aphids, providing natural pest control.
Snakeflies belong to the order Raphidioptera. They are characterized by their elongated heads and predatory feeding habits.
Dobsonflies are part of the order Megaloptera. These insects have distinctive large wings and powerful mandibles.
Spongillaflies, from the family Sisyridae, are unique in the Neuroptera order. Their larvae feed on fresh-water sponges.
Alderflies also belong to the order Megaloptera. They have a dark body color and aquatic larvae.
Fishflies, another group in the order Megaloptera, share similarities with alderflies. They possess aquatic larvae and dark-colored adult bodies, too.
|Insect Group||Order/Family||Predatory Larvae||Aquatic Larvae|
|Spongillaflies||Sisyridae (Neuroptera)||Yes||No, feed on fresh-water sponges|
Neuropterans have two pairs of membranous wings, with a complex network of veins. These wings are:
- Usually transparent
- Similar in size and shape
- Held roof-like over their bodies
Neuropteran larvae have strong, heavily sclerotized mandibles, suited for:
- Sucking prey
The abdomen of neuropterans contains important organs such as the reproductive and digestive systems. The abdomen is:
Neuropterans have long and slender antennae, which help:
- Locate food sources
The legs of neuropterans are adapted for walking and capturing prey, featuring:
Neuropterans have large compound eyes, enabling them to:
- Detect prey
- Navigate the environment
Digestive and Excretory Systems
Neuropterans have a complete digestive system, consisting of:
Their excretory systems use Malpighian tubules for:
- Waste removal
- Fluid balance
Behavior and Ecology
Neuropterans are known for their predatory nature, with most larval species feeding on a variety of soft-bodied insects. Predators commonly target:
- Scale insects
Larvae possess specialized pincers for seizing their prey, and some species have developed unique techniques to capture them. For example, antlion larvae use a combination of sand and silk to construct pits that trap unsuspecting insects.
To avoid detection from predators and facilitate prey capture, neuropterans apply various camouflage strategies, such as:
- Blending in with their surroundings (e.g., bark, sand)
- Mimicking the appearance of other insects (e.g., dobsonflies resembling terrestrial and fresh-water sponges)
The green lacewing is an excellent example that uses its transparent wings and green body to blend in with foliage.
Reproductive and Developmental Strategies
Neuropterans undergo a complete metamorphosis, featuring four life stages: egg, larva, pupa, and adult. Reproduction and development involve:
- Adults laying eggs on host plants where prey is abundant
- Larvae feeding voraciously to gather energy for the pupal stage
- Pupating within a secure cocoon
- Emerging as fully formed adults
Below is a comparison table highlighting the differences between two common neuropteran species:
|Prey||Aphids, mites, scale insects||Ants, other small insects|
|Camouflage||Transparent wings and green body to blend with foliage||Mimics terrestrial and fresh-water sponges|
|Reproduction||Eggs laid on host plants||Eggs laid near sandy pit area|
|Unique Technique||N/A||Constructs pit from sand and silk to trap insects|
Neuropterans play a vital role in controlling pest populations, not only benefiting agriculture but also ecosystems. Some species feed on nectar and pollen and may act as pollinators.
Distribution and Habitat
Neuropterans, also known as the order Neuroptera, include a variety of species such as lacewings, antlions, mantisflies, and owlflies. They are:
- Commonly found worldwide
- Present in multiple families
- Versatile species that inhabit diverse habitats
Neuropteran insects can be found in various environments, including the following:
- Trees: Many species of neuropterans like lacewings can be found on trees.
- Ground: Some insects like antlions thrive on the ground, creating traps for ants.
- Health and ecology: These insects play a vital role in maintaining the health of ecosystems by controlling pest populations, such as ants.
In general, neuropterans prefer habitats that offer a balance between the availability of prey and suitable nesting locations.
Neuropteran Family Details
Green lacewings, also known as Chrysopidae, are beneficial insects that help control harmful pests like aphids and mites. Some key characteristics of green lacewings include:
- Delicate, translucent green wings
- Long, slender antennae
- Bright golden eyes
Adults feed on nectar, pollen, and honeydew, while their larvae are voracious predators of pests.
Brown lacewings, belonging to the Hemerobiidae family, are similar to green lacewings in their role as predators of harmful insects.
- Brown or fawn-colored wings
- Shorter antennae compared to green lacewings
- Veiny wing pattern
They mostly consume aphids, making them valuable for pest control in gardens and agricultural settings.
Also known as mantidflies Mantispidae are unique Neuropterans, characterized by:
- Raptorial front legs, similar to praying mantises
- Wings with characteristic patterns
- Predatory larvae and adults
Larvae primarily feed on spider eggs while adults prey on various small insects.
Doodlebugs are the larval stage of antlions which belong to the Myrmeleontidae family. They are known for their unique predatory behavior:
- Create conical pitfall traps in sandy soil to capture small insects
- Flick sand at trapped prey, preventing escape
- Larvae have large, curved mandibles for grabbing prey
Ascalaphidae, commonly known as owlflies, are members of the Neuroptera order with:
- Long, clubbed antennae
- Prominent, owl-like eyes
- Aerial predators
Both adult owlflies and their larvae are predators, feeding on a variety of small insects.
The Sisyridae family consists of unique Neuropterans known as spongillaflies, with the following characteristics:
- Larvae that feed on freshwater sponges, nickname: Spongilla-foss
- Two pairs of membranous wings with dark markings
- Adults feed on small insects
They are important for maintaining the balance in aquatic ecosystems by preying on sponge populations.
|Primary Diet||Aphids, mites||Small insects||Small insects||Small insects||Freshwater sponges|
|Habitat||Terrestrial||Terrestrial||Sandy soil||Terrestrial||Aquatic (larvae), terrestrial (adults)|
|Color||Green, brown||Variable||Sandy color||Variable with bold wing markings||Variable with dark wing markings|
Lesser-Known Neuropteran Families
Berothidae, commonly known as beaded lacewings, comprise a small family of insects. They are characterized by:
- Delicate appearance
- Beaded antennae
- Predatory behavior in both larvae and adult form
Coniopterygidae, or dustywings, are a minute group of insects. Key features include:
- Small size
- Powdery white appearance
- Wings held roof-like over the body
They are beneficial insects that prey on aphids and other small pests.
Dilaridae, known as pleasing lacewings, have distinct characteristics:
- Slender body
- Long, hair-like antennae
They inhabit wooded areas and are predators of small arthropods.
Ithonidae, or moth lacewings, resemble moths and have:
- Large, rounded wings
- Brown or grayish coloration
Their larvae are predatory and feed on small insects.
Nemopteridae, called spoon-winged lacewings, feature elongated hind wings that resemble spoons. They are mostly found in arid regions and prey on small insects.
Neurorthidae, also called grass lacewings, are small and green. They inhabit grassy habitats and are known for their predatory larval stage.
Nymphidae are a small group of neuropterans called butterfly lacewings. They possess brightly colored wings and share similar habitats with butterflies.
Osmylidae, or giant lacewings, are larger neuropterans with:
- Broad wings
- Prominent veins
Their larvae are aquatic and feed on other aquatic insects.
Polystoechotidae, termed giant lacewings, are similar in appearance to Osmylidae. However, they can be distinguished by the presence of more complex wing venation.
Psychopsidae, known as silky lacewings, are characterized by having:
- Silky wing texture
- Unique wing venation patterns
They are found in wooded areas and prey on small arthropods.
Raphidiodea, or snakeflies, are a diverse group in the Neuropterida clade. They have:
- Elongated necks, resembling a snake
- Membranous wings
- A predatory lifestyle, targeting small insects
|Berothidae||Beaded Lacewings||Delicate, beaded antennae, predatory||Various|
|Coniopterygidae||Dustywings||Small, powdery, roof-like wings||Various|
|Dilaridae||Pleasing Lacewings||Slender, hair-like antennae||Wooded areas|
|Ithonidae||Moth Lacewings||Large, rounded wings, brown/gray||Various|
|Nemopteridae||Spoon-winged Lacewings||Elongated hind wings||Arid regions|
|Neurorthidae||Grass Lacewings||Small, green||Grassy habitats|
|Nymphidae||Butterfly Lacewings||Brightly colored wings||Various|
|Osmylidae||Giant Lacewings||Broad wings, prominent veins||Aquatic environments|
|Polystoechotidae||Giant Lacewings||Complex wing venation||Various|
|Psychopsidae||Silky Lacewings||Silky wing texture, unique venation||Wooded areas|
|Raphidiodea||Snakeflies||Elongated neck, membranous wings||Various|
Interaction with Humans
Neuropterans as Biological Control Agents
Neuropterans, particularly larvae of lacewings and antlions, are effective biocontrol agents due to their predatory nature. They consume pests like aphids, mites, and other insects, which helps in maintaining a balanced ecosystem and protecting crops.
- Pros: Reduced reliance on chemical pesticides, eco-friendly, and promotes crop health
- Cons: May be less effective in large-scale agriculture, need for constant monitoring
For example, the green lacewing (Chrysoperla carnea) is often used in gardens and greenhouses to control aphids.
Health and Ecological Benefits
Neuropterans also contribute to the health and ecology of our environments by:
- Preying on pests, reducing the need for chemical pesticides
- Supporting the reproductive systems of plants through pollination, as some adult Neuropterans feed on nectar and pollen
- Being an essential part of the food chain for larger predators like birds, frogs, and bats
Potential Risks of Neuropterans
While primarily beneficial, there might be some risks of introducing Neuropterans as biocontrol agents, such as the possibility of upsetting the ecological balance or potentially harming other non-target species.
|Species||Biocontrol Agent||Ecological Benefit||Potential Risk|
|Green Lacewing||Yes||Yes||Minor impact on non-target species|
|Antlion||Yes||Yes||Minimal risk due to the selective predation on specific prey|
|Coleoptera (beetles)||Not a Neuropteran||N/A||N/A|
In conclusion, Neuropterans serve vital roles in ecosystems as biological control agents and are generally beneficial to human endeavors. However, responsible management and monitoring are essential when introducing these insects to new environments to prevent potential risks.
Snakeflies are fascinating insects that belong to the order Raphidioptera. They have elongated bodies and can be mistaken for damselflies at times. Some common relatives include:
- Mantispids: Also known as mantisflies, these insects are part of the Neuroptera order and resemble praying mantises due to their raptorial forelegs.
- Spiders: Although not insects, spiders share a common predatory behavior with snakeflies.
Silky and Split-Footed Lacewings
Both silky and split-footed lacewings belong to the Neuroptera order. These insects are known for their delicate wings and intricate wing venation.
- Silky lacewings: Part of the family Psychopsidae, they are characterized by their silky appearance and feed on small insects and plants.
- Split-footed lacewings: Belonging to the Nymphidae family, these insects have a unique foot structure that differentiates them from other lacewings.
|Feature||Silky Lacewing||Split-Footed Lacewing|
- Spoonwings, also known as Nemopteridae, are another group of insects within the Neuroptera order.
- Characterized by their elongated hind wings, which resemble spoons or streamers, they are often found in arid regions and feed on small insects.
As you can see, the Neuroptera order is home to a diverse group of insects, including snakefly relatives, silky and split-footed lacewings, and spoonwings. All of these insects exhibit unique characteristics and play various roles in their respective ecosystems.
Over the years, our website, whatsthatbug.com has received hundreds of letters and some interesting images asking us about these insects. Scroll down to have a look at some of them.
Letter 1 – Mystery Australian Neuropteran Eggs are Blue Eyed Lacewing Eggs
Whose eggs are these?
I wonder if you can help me identify the creature from whom came these eggs? I found them under a pallet (in East coast Australia).
We have no idea, but we are excited to create a new Egg page. We sometimes get requests for egg identification and we are rarely able to identify them. Maybe somewone will write in with the answer.
Good morning and thanks for your reply. I am a little closer to an answer about the eggs. “Order Neuroptera: In about half the families, eggs are laid on thin stalks, either in rows or in a “U” shaped cluster, attached to wood or leaves.” (A Field Guide to Insects In Australia by Zborowski & Storey). I suppose we can rule out lacewings (we have plenty of those), as they lay their eggs singly. Other Neuroptera around here are Mantis Flies and Antlions Regards,
Update: January 19, 2015
These are the Eggs of a Blue Eyed Lacewing.
Letter 2 – Hatchling Blue Eyes Lacewings, possibly
Subject: What is this?!
Location: NSW Australia
March 7, 2016 8:05 pm
Hi, I just found this on my ceiling. Can anyone identify it?
I honestly don’t even know if its a bug, it looks like it though haha
These are hatchling Neuropterans, possibly Blue Eyes Lacewing hatchlings. The hatchlings are such gregarious hunters that the members of the order Neuroptera have adapted to laying eggs on filaments so that the hatchlings do not eat one another.
Letter 3 – Camouflaged Neuropteran Larva from Australia
Subject: Scary bug!
Location: NSW, Australia
January 8, 2014 12:59 am
I found this bug in my bathroom just the other day thinking it was a piece of fluff or dust i just left it be. Although the next day when i noticed it walking i was a little worried. It seems to have rather large fang looking things?
And chance you know what he may be?
What we know for certain is that this is the camouflaged larva of a Neuropteran, a member of the order that included Lacewings, Antlions and Owlflies. In North America, there are many Lacewing Larvae that utilize this style of camouflage, but the mandibles on your individual look much larger. We found this previously posted, but still unidentified camouflaged Neuropteran Larva in our archives. The Owlfly Larvae pictured on the Brisbane Insect website have similar mandibles, but no camouflage. The Antlion Larva pictured on the Brisbane Insect website also has similar mandibles, but again, no camouflage. The best we can provide at this time is that this is the camouflaged Larva of an insect in the order Neuroptera. Hopefully, we will eventually determine a family, genus or even species identity.
Letter 4 – Dooble Bugs
Hi! When I lived in Alabama as a child there was a bug that lived in the ground that we call a "doodlebug" or a "pinchin bug" because of the big pinchers it had…..it would burrow straw sized holes and back into it…..we as kids would put broom straw in the hole and wait until it started to wiggle then jerk the straw out and hanging from it by it’s pinchers would be the ugliest meanest looking little bug/worm thing less than an inch long. What was it?
Your Doodle Bugs are the larvae of Ant Lions, Family Myrmeleontidae, winged insects that resemble Lacewings.
Letter 5 – Eric Eaton's conclusion:
” Oh, my! Neither one. I’d be willing to bet it is the larva of an owlfly (Ascalaphidae). Overall appearance, and behavior, are right for that family. Hesitate to be conclusive because there are other families of Neuroptera in that part of the world that are not represented in North America. Still, I”m reasonably confident that is what it is. Cool! Eric”
Letter 6 – It's a Bug, It's a Leaf, It's a Fossil
Letter 7 – Neuropteran Larva from Australia
Subject: HELP! what’s that bug?
Location: Brisbane, Australia.
August 8, 2015 5:46 am
Hi, I was laying in bed when I noticed this small thing moving along my bed sheet. So I grabbed it with a bit of tissue and took it to the toilet where I was to dispose of it. But I was interested and wanted to know what it was so I took it out of the tissue and noticed its back was flaking off like a weak piece of bark.
It is currently winter (Augest)
I also was in the garden earlier that day.
I also moved and cleaned everything in my room.
in the third photo the bug is upside down.
Thank you for your time.
This is a predatory Neuropteran larva, and we suspect it was a hitchhiker from your day in the garden. What flaked off might have been a piece of bark or other plant detritus that the larva used for the purposes of camouflage. You can read more about Australian Neuropterans on the Brisbane Insect site.
Letter 8 – Nymphes myrmeleonides
Further to the photo of the eggs posted on 19th January this year. Some similar eggs have just hatched on the underside of my verandah roof. The larvae have been milling about for a couple of days, but presumably will soon disperse. Those pincers look rather fearsome!
I have discovered they belong to a member of the family Nymphidae, probably Nymphes myrmeleonides, an insect I had seen previously around the garden. So, here are the larvae and the adult: Kind regards and thanks for your fascinating website,
Hi Again Grev,
Thank you so much for the fascinating follow-up and the wonderful photos.
Letter 9 – Possibly Immature Neuropteran from Australia
What am i
Location: Melbourne australia
July 18, 2010 2:38 am
I took a pic of what seams to be some sort of nimph?
The glaring dearth of information you have provided us is astounding. What size was it? What was the habitat like where it was found? We suspect that this is a larval Neuropteran, and it most closely resembles the larva of a Green Lacewing in the family Chrysopidae. You can compare your images to some of the ones on the Brisbane Insect website.
Letter 10 – Duskywing, NOT Zorapteran
Subject: Insect found in deadwood
Geographic location of the bug: Ontario, Canada
Time: 02:35 PM EDT
Your letter to the bugman: Hi,
I’ve been analyzing insect emerging from deadwood. This is the only one I have difficulty identifying to the even the order level. It emerged from pine that had been left to rot for one year. It emerged in early summer. The images were taken using my camera phone thorough a stereo microscope on max zoom. It has 4 wings, its antennae are segmented and longer than its body. It looks like some weird cross between strepsiptera(too big) and bark lice (different face shape). Even order level identification would be much appreciated. Thanks 🙂
How you want your letter signed: PJ
The four wings definitely eliminates any of the Flies in the order Diptera. We decided to browse BugGuide prior to requesting assistance on this identification, and at first we thought this might be a Zorapteran from the order Zoraptera, which would represent a new Insect order for our site. Here is a beautiful drawing from BugGuide and here is an image from BugGuide. According to BugGuide: “Tiny, gregarious insects found in decaying wood. Wingless and winged forms occur in both sexes. 4 membranous wings with much reduced venation. Antennae moniliform and 9-segmented. Wingless forms lack compound eyes and ocelli, but winged forms have both. Tarsi 2-segmented. Cerci are short and unsegmented. Abdomen, short, oval and 10-segmented.” Our main cause for doubting that identification is that your images depict many more than 9 segments in the antennae, so we believe this is most likely NOT a Zorapteran, but interestingly, the rest of the description seems accurate. We will contact Eric Eaton to get his input. According to NC State University General Entomology: ” Zoraptera is the third smallest insect order. Only Mantophasmatodea and Grylloblattodea contain fewer species. Some species of Zoraptera have been found living in the nests of termites and mammals. No one is sure what these insects are doing there. In most Zoraptera, there are two forms of adults: winged individuals are usually brown in color and have both eyes and ocelli, wingless individuals are usually blind and pale (unpigmented) in color.” Perhaps one of our readers will have a suggestion.
Eric Eaton Responds.
Wow. I think you might be on the right track with Zoraptera, actually. Otherwise, maybe a male scale insect. I do not have enough expertise in either of those to have a better clue.
author, Kaufman Field Guide to Insects of North America
Thanks for letting us know what you determined. We are linking to the Duskywings in the family Coniopterygidae on BugGuide where it states: “Adults covered with white waxy powder which gives a granulated appearance to the surface when viewed close-up; wings whitish with reduced venation, and held tent-like over abdomen at rest; antennae long and slender; mouthparts moderately long and beak-like; legs relatively long, especially hindlegs.” Here is a BugGuide image that somewhat resembles the images you submitted. How do you explain its emergence from rotting pine?
That would be great PJ. We look forward to any updates you might have in the future.