One of the very few insects an entomophobic person wouldn’t scream and run away from would probably be a Green Lacewing. The fragile beauty of this insect can only be better appreciated by taking a closer look.
Ever since I saw and photographed my first lacewing, I have been fascinated by them. They are commonly found in agricultural landscapes and garden habitats. Most lacewing species feed on honeydew, nectar and pollen, in their adulthood; some species are predaceous, feeding on soft-bodied insects like aphids. When adult lacewings visit flowers for nectar, they may accidentally help pollinate a plant.
I am always in search of this beautiful insect to observe and learn more about it. Fortunately every once in a while, after dark, lacewings are drawn to a light source in my house, along with the more common moths and beetles. One night, I saw a Green Lacewing just under a CFL light. It was completely still; upon a closer look, I noticed that it had just laid eggs on the wall and was perhaps recuperating.
Each tiny egg was placed on a hair-like filament, fragile and beautiful. The filament perhaps protects the eggs from ants and other predators. A female generally lays up to 300 eggs over a period of 3-4 weeks. I realised I had a wonderful opportunity to document the life-cycle of this beautiful insect.
The eggs were placed at almost nine feet from the ground, beyond my reach. I immediately sprang into action and set up two chairs – one for me to stand on and the other for my camera mounted on a tripod. With childlike excitement, I photographed the eggs every six hours, to document any progress. Nothing much happened for the first couple of days. But I could see that the eggs were getting darker with each passing day.
On the third morning, just out of curiosity, I grabbed a flashlight and took a closer look at the eggs, with the light passing through. That is when I saw the faint features of larvae developing inside.
I could distinguish the foetus-like position of the larvae; even the eye spots had developed, and developing mandibles could be faintly discerned. It was an utterly magical sight! I was completely engrossed in photographing the eggs from all possible angles, waiting for the larvae to emerge, but nothing significant happened for another day.
On the morning of the fourth day, I witnessed the magical moment I was so desperately waiting for. I could see a few eggs bulging at one end, and the bulge was getting more prominent by the minute. Finally, a larva broke open the shell and out came the head. The larva started to carefully wriggle itself free from the confines of its egg shell. After a desperate struggle lasting a few minutes, the larva was out, but its rear end was still attached to the egg. Many larvae now began hatching similarly.
I watched the newly-hatched larvae carefully move their limbs and heads, as their exoskeletons were still soft. After an hour of inactivity, each larva completely freed itself and rested on its empty egg shell, waiting for its soft, delicate body to harden before venturing out in search of food.
In the next couple of hours, all the eggs had hatched and most of the larvae had dispersed seeking food. It was hard to believe that each egg was only approximately 1 mm in length, as seen in this image showing the actual size of the eggs and the larvae.
After hatching, all that the lacewings do is hunt and feed. Their voracious appetite has earned them the name ‘Aphid Lion’. These eating machines are known to devour each other when confined in close quarters. The larva protects itself from predators by instinctively adorning itself with debris and prey integuments, which might offer some camouflage and protection from birds and larger insects.
After feeding for a few weeks, they attain full growth (approx. 9.5 mm). They are then ready for pupation, which occurs in loosely woven, spherical, silken cocoons attached to plants or under loose bark. During this stage, the savage looking larvae turn into beautiful adult lacewings. They develop wings and reproductive organs in this stage spanning 5 to 7 days. The Green Lacewing adults then emerge from their cocoons and fly away in search of mates, only to start the process all over again.