Working with the natural order

Linda Workman Smith
Multi-County Master Gardener Association
Lacewing and caterpillars

Several years ago, I began adding more native plants to my landscape hoping to draw pollinators and other beneficial insects into my landscape. I don’t use chemicals so need all the help I can get.

Here at my Two Acre Paradise/Three Dog Circus the only help I get from circus members is digging holes where I don’t want them and carrying off potted plants.

Pictured is swamp milkweed—just outside my back door—with a fairly heavy population of aphids but.... notice the white spots that appear attached to plant by a very thin, hair-like stick? Those are eggs of lacewing insects. This is one of the many reasons I do NOT recommend using poisons in the landscape.

Green lacewings are an often-under-appreciated group of beneficial insects. As with lady beetles, these natural enemies are important predators of many types of soft bodied insects and insect eggs. These insects are common in the spring, summer and fall; their contribution to insect control is immense.

The adult green lacewing is about 3/4 inch long, light green and has a delicate appearance with lacy wings. One unusual characteristic are its eyes, they look like two golden hemispheres. They are weak fliers and are commonly found near aphid colonies. The adults feed mostly on nectar, pollen, and honeydew but with some species the adults will feed on insects.

The eggs are either laid singly or in small groups. Each is always found perched on the tip of a hairlike stalk that is about 1/2 inch long. This helps to reduce cannibalism of the eggs by sibling larvae. Females will usually deposit the egg close to a food source for the larvae.

The larvae are brown and white and may grow up to about l/2 inch in length. Larvae are called aphid-lions, because they feed on other soft-bodied insects as well as aphids. They are voracious feeders, attacking with large, curved, hollow mandibles. This is the most beneficial stage with the lacewings. They feed on soft-bodied insects like aphids, but will also feed on caterpillars and some beetles.

The larvae will pupate on plants which they were searching for insect prey. The pupa is light in color and egg shaped.

On another note: I planted a pipevine 3-4 years ago. I have been waiting anxiously for the pipevine swallowtail butterflies to find it. Much to my delight I spotted their caterpillars on it a few days ago!

The balance of our natural world is pure awesomeness!

As always, happy gardening.