Green Lacewings: Eat, Prey, Love Biocontrol

September 24, 2013

We've added a new insect delicacy to the menu for the dwellers in our Spider Pavilion. That's right, usually the ladies (and few gents), that call the spider pavilion home, get fed butterflies, crickets, and flies, but as of this week we've added green lacewings!

Whitebanded Crab Spider, Misumenoides formosipes, getting ready to eat a Green Lacewing, Chrysoperla rufilabris. Green lacewings, belong to the insect order Neuroptera, also known as nerve-wings. Not only does this mean that most people have never heard of them, it also means they have complex designs, or "nerves" in their wings. Some might think that this translates into flying well, but alas, this group of insects are notoriously poor fliers. However, what they lack in flight, they make up for in mouthparts. Big scary-looking mouthparts! Especially, if you're a small soft-bodied garden pest. I mean, check out the green lacewing's cousin the dobsonfly. Those are some killer mouthparts!

Male Dobsonfly, Corydalus cornutus, photo by Dehaan Immature green lacewings (aka aphidlions) are such good predators, they have to lay their eggs on stalks, or they'd get cannibalized!

Not a very good picture, but you get the idea! Gardeners and farmers have learned to capitilize on the lacewing's voracious appetite, by using them as biological control agents. They eat, on average, 200 aphids a week, and can also be found eating other insect eggs, mealybugs, thrips, immature whiteflies, and even small caterpillars. So next time you have a pest infestation in your garden, hope you have some Green Lacewings out there making friends with those ladybugs!      

(Posted by: Lila Higgins)

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February 29, 2012

On Sunday, February 26, Museum Educator Anna Holden, and myself took some families out to the North Campus to collect spiders! The spiders were collected so they can be identified and preserved as part of our ongoing L.A. Spider Survey. They will also be added to our ever-growing North Campus species list.  

Briana Burrows and Anna Holden (looks like they really like collecting spiders too) All told, we collected 17 spiders (not bad for a newly planted habitat) many of which were very small and non-descript think tiny brown specks almost indistinguishable from a piece of dirt (did I mention these children have amazing eyesight?). However, there was one spider that stood out from the crowd. She was large, and yellow, and had oh such lovely legs! Let me introduce you to the Whitebanded Crab Spider, Misumenoides formosipes (her species name is derived from the Latin formosus = beautiful and pes = foot or leg).      

      Female Whitebanded Crab Spider   This group of spiders is so named for their crab-like appearance and movement. They are adept at quickly moving sideways, backwards, and forwards. This quick movement is only infrequently observed by us humans, as they are "sit and wait" predators. This means they sit very still on a flower and wait for pollinators to visit, and then, quick as a flash, they'll attack and subdue their prey. Also of note, they can change color! Watch out chameleons, these eight-legged lovelies also have the ability to better blend in with their surroundings. Although it has to be said that they can't deviate greatly from their original color and the process takes a few days to complete. The beautiful specimen we found on Sunday was a female. The sexes are very easy to distinguish as the males are a lot smaller and much less rotund. She was collected on the bright yellow, sunflower-like flowers of Encelia californica, commonly known as bush sunflower. Next time you are in the North Campus, check out the bush sunflowers planted atop the living wall. Who knew so much drama could be unfolding on each and every flower?      

Crab spider versus European Honey Bee (It was a tie, the honey bee flew away)     Thanks to Karen Ewald for taking the spider collecting picture.

(Posted by: Lila Higgins)


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