The “trash bug” may look like a tiny, harmless ball of meandering fuzz, but upon closer inspection, you will discover that these little guys are really predatory masters of disguise with big scary pincers (maxillae) and a very creepy secret. The “trash” part of this curious insect is not part of it’s body at all, rather it’s a shield composed of dirt, lichen, and various other debris; including the body parts of it’s many previous victims.
Lacewing larvae (Chrysoperla carnea) are prolific eaters of aphids and are often referred to as “Aphid Lions” or “Aphid Wolves”. They also enjoy a variety of other treats such as citrus mealybugs, red spider mites, thrips and more. When they attack, they use their large, needle like maxillae to inject a solution into their prey that disolves the unlucky victim from the inside. Once liquified, the “trash bug” drains the victim, then moves on to the next meal…but not before sometimes throwing a leg or entire carcus on it’s back to keep building up the trash pile.
Because they feed on a large variety of insects that are considered garden pests, lacewing larvae are considered particularly beneficial to people. Green lacewing eggs, in particular, are even sold commercially as an organic pest control agent.
There are many species of lacewings and some larvae cover themselves in “trash” and others do not.
Upon hatching, these little guys molt immediately and scurry off to find a meal. For the species that do carry around a trash shield, the empty egg and stalk is often their first decoration. And while they have been know to travel up to 100 feet to find their first meal (a huge distance for such a tiny creature), eggs are often laid in close proximity to aphids, so the hatching larvae can skip the hike and go right to liquifying unsuspecting victims.
When the larvae is ready to pupate, it cocoons for a handful of days, then emerges as a fully formed adult. They can live for several months as adults and some species continue to prey on insects, while others prefer a more relaxed retirement. These individuals prefer nectar and honey dew; but no doubt still brag to the other adults about their wild youth and trade lies about the number of aphids they all ate along the way.
Tell me more, you say?
Q: Do they bite or sting people – A: They can bite and there is anecdotal evidence that some people can have an adverse reaction to these bites. For most people however, the bite is very mild and uneventful.
Q: I hate aphids, how can I get some lacewings? A: Other than buying the eggs of the green lacewings, you can attract them with a variety of flowers and herbs, such as cosmos, sunflowers, dandelion and dill.
Q: What about the ones that don’t cover themselves in trash like crazy people? What do they look like? A: Oh, they look even more scary; like little aligators with huge pincers. Check out the videos below to see them with and without trash:
Photo – Trash Bug -© Suzbah | Dreamstime.com – Lacewing (Neuroptera-Chrysopidae) Photo
Photo – Green Lacewing Eggs – © Yongkiet | Dreamstime.com – Eggs Of Green Lacewing Photo
Photo – Green Lacewing Adult – © Gordzam | Dreamstime.com – Lacewing At Night Photo
YouTube video – Lacewing larvae eating an aphid – Kevi Mace