GREEN LACEWINGS: A Beneficial Garden Insect
Unlike many bugs that invade your garden, you actually want green lacewings to stick around. They aren’t hungry for your tomatoes or even your cucumbers. Instead, you can rely on lacewing larvae to prey on the bugs you hate, including aphids, caterpillars, leafhoppers, mites, psyllids, thrips, whiteflies and the eggs of insects.
With that in mind, farmers and gardeners find lacewings very important in helping to control many insect pests that attack their fruit and vegetable crops and flower gardens.
So … What’s a Green Lacewing?
Adult green lacewings are small, soft-bodied insects that are light green in color. As an adult insect, this beneficial predator has antennae, big eyes, six legs and see-through wings. It resembles a dragonfly and is often mistaken for one.
Green lacewing larvae are what farmers and gardeners really love. Often called "aphid lions," these young lacewings are savage hunters that stalk their prey between rows of your garden. In fact, lacewing larvae are so hungry for bugs that they will even devour each other! Because of this, a mature female lacewing places her eggs at the end of special egg-stalks that she deposits on the underside of a leaf. The egg-stalks help to keep the ravenous larvae away from one another.
Worldwide, there are about 2,000 species of green lacewings, and they are considered very common in North America. Most lacewings are crepuscular (which means active during the twilight hours) or nocturnal.
Green Lacewing Habitat
Green lacewings are found throughout the United States. Adult lacewings feed on nectar and pollen from plants so they may be found in flower gardens, vegetable gardens and agricultural fields. As a result, their eggs and larvae can be found in the same areas.
What Do Green Lacewings Eat?
Lacewing larvae eat a number of insects that are harmful to garden crops. Among their prey are:
- Insect eggs (all varieties)
The larvae have huge appetites and will suck the juices of just about any prey they encounter. This is true of both green and brown lacewings, which we’ll get to later in the article.
Green lacewing larvae have segmented bodies with six thin legs and large pincers near their mouth. They are normally green or brown with mottled patterns. When attacking their prey, they grasp their victim, inject it with venom and then draw out its body fluids. Their pincers allow them to grab a wide variety of prey.
During their two- or three-week larvae life stage, lacewings can devour up to 600 garden pests. And be careful around them, because lacewing larvae may occasionally pinch your finger as they search for food!
Are Lacewings Organic?
Green lacewings offer natural aphid control for organic gardens in North America. Of course, they don’t just eat aphids – they are a great resource to control many other garden insects.
What makes lacewings an “organic” control? Since these beneficial bugs are regular inhabitants of most of North America, their presence in your garden doesn’t alter the ecosystem. That means that under federal standards, applying them to your plants will still allow you to qualify your harvest as organic.
Talk about a win-win situation! The lacewings eat all they want and you and your garden reap the benefit.
How to Attract Lacewings to Your Garden
Among the adult lacewing’s favorite plants are:
- Fern-leaf yarrow
- Four-wing saltbush
- Golden marguerite
- Purple poppy mallow
- Queen Anne’s Lace
Adult lacewings also consume honeydew, the liquid excreted by aphids and scale insects. They also occasionally eat mites and other small arthropods.
Once you have a small population of adult lacewings, it won’t be too long before they produce eggs that hatch into their bug-hungry larvae. As long as you continue to provide adults with food, their beneficial offspring should continue to appear as well.
Can You Buy Lacewings?
Many gardeners and farmers buy live lacewings in bulk to help them control pests in a natural fashion. Nurseries and online sellers offer packages of lacewings that you can release in a garden or greenhouse. Some even offer programs where they ship cartons of live lacewings to you on a weekly basis!
You have plenty of buying options, too – purchase adults, larvae or eggs and release them as appropriate based on their life stage.
What Are Brown Lacewings?
The brown lacewing is another lacewing used as a biological control agent. These lacewings lay non-stalked eggs, and they hunt other insects in both larval and adult form. Among their favorite meals are aphids, mealybugs and insect eggs of all kinds. Females lay more than 450 eggs during their lifetime, which results in large populations that can quickly eliminate a pest problem. At this point the use of brown lacewings for such purposes is relatively limited, though there have been successful deployment in Texas citrus orchards.
Adult lacewings are often targeted by insectivores, including birds, bats and larger insects. When attacked, lacewings will release a foul-smelling excretion in an attempt to deter a predator. These insects have excellent hearing thanks to a tympanal organ under their wing. This organ is able to sense the ultrasonic calls of bats, and upon sensing this noise, they make evasive maneuvers.
Lacewings in Your Garden
By drawing lacewings to your garden, you’ll have another layer of defense for your plants from harmful insects. Try coupling your effort with lacewings to applications of Safer® Brand BioNEEM® Insecticide and Repellent. This insecticide is ingested by plant-eating insects and interrupts their growth cycle. Since lacewing larvae won’t be eating your plants, they’ll be safe to hunt!
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