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Excerpts from Jim Conrad's
from the July 20, 2006 Newsletter issued from Polly's
Bend, Garrard County, in Kentucky's Bluegrass Region, USA
One late afternoon this week I was reading beneath the big American Elm beside the house when I began feeling a slight stinging on my naked back. I reached around and withdrew the strange-looking object you can see at the right.
The picture shows what appears to be a tiny glob of stuck-together, flaky material adhering to the tip of my finger. The glob is smaller than a pea.
What you're seeing is a well-camouflaged larva of a Brown Lacewing of the insect family Hemerobiidae. Lacewings are closely related to the antlions or doodlebugs who make conical pits in the sand. The camouflage of the larva in the picture consists of flecks of gray and green lichen similar to that encrusting the old elm's bark. For camouflage material Brown Lacewing larvae can choose almost anything small, loose and dry, including the sucked-dry remains of their prey!
Lacewing larvae are very aggressive predators on aphids, insect eggs and other small critters. In fact, another name for Brown Lacewing larvae is Aphid Wolf. Judging from how the one in the photo dug into my back, they can attack not-so-small prey, too. Like antlions, lacewing larvae use their sickle-like mandibles to tear into their prey and suck them dry. They've been used as biological control agents in gardens.
The University of Kentucky produces a "Lacewings of Kentucky" page where you can see adult lacewings, eggs and other larvae -- including a Brown Lacewing larva from Texas that has camouflaged itself with the suck-dried bodies of ants!