The order Neuroptera is a specific order of insects that includes lacewings, antlions, and mantidflies. This order contains over 4,000 species worldwide. The name neuroptera is a combination the of Greek words neuro and pteron, which translate to nerve, or neuron, and wing, which gives rise to their more commonly known name of net-winged insects. All of the insects belonging to this order have large wings that are finely netted, and are carnivorous.
All members of the Neuroptera order undergo complete metamorphosis. This means that they go through four different stages of development to complete their life cycle. The four stages of metamorphosis are egg, nymph or larva, pupa, and adult. Complete metamorphosis separates this order of insects from other orders that may only undergo incomplete metamorphosis such as going from egg to larva to adult.
Lacewings belong to the families Hemerobiidae and Chrysopidae, and include the brown lacewings and the green lacewings. Brown lacewings (Hemerobius species) are found in wooded areas, and have brown bodies and brown tinted laced wings with brown veins. They are approximately 3/8 to 5/8 inch long, and both the larva and the adult feed on aphids, mealy bugs and other soft-bodied insects. The green lacewings (Chysopa species) are found in gardens, orchards, and fields, and have bright green bodies with transparent laced wings with green veins. They are similarly sized to the brown lacewings, and also eat aphids and other small soft-bodied insects. In both the brown and green lacewings, the wings are held over the body like a tent when the insect is at rest. Green lacewings are commercially bred and sold as a natural pest control to farmers and growers to help combat aphid infestations.
Antlions belong to the family Myrmeleontidae, and resemble dragon flies or damselflies with long netted wings that fold over their backs. The adults can measure 1 to 6 inches long, depending on the species. Antlions are much more well known in their larval stage than in their adult stage. In their larval stage, antlions live in sand and create small pits. Underneath the sand at the bottom of the pit, the antlion waits for an ant or another small soft-bodied insect to fall into the pit, where it will then be captured, dragged under the sand, and consumed. Antlions spend 1 to 3 years as larva before constructing a pupa of silk and sand to complete the final metamorphosis step. Also known as doodlebugs for the doodle-like drawings the larva will make in the sand, antlion larva are commonly kept as pets in terrariums filled with sand. Adult antlions eat nectar or rarely eat at all. After they become adults, antlions breed and lay eggs in the sand and then die after only 30 to 45 days as an adult.
Mantidflies belong to the family Mantispidae and look like a praying mantis with clear netted wings. They have enlarged forelegs that are used to grasp prey and kept folded when not in use, and a large triangular shaped head. Like the antlion, the mantidfly has an interesting larval stage. The adult mantidfly lays its eggs on leaves. The larvae hatch and wait for a passing host of either a spider, bee or wasp to climb onto and be carried to the host’s nest. The larvae then crawl into the developing nest of the host’s eggs before the host can completely conceal them in silk where they then feed on the eggs and developing host larvae until it is ready to make its own pupa and emerge as an adult. Adult mantidflies will eat plant nectar as well as insects. Some species of mantidflies resemble wasps, such as the wasp mantidfly (Climaciella brunnea), which has a similarly shaped body with narrow waist and large abdomen, and carries its wings across its body rather than folded.
The insects belonging to the order Neuroptera all share common characteristics such as netted wings, predatory behaviors, and interesting multi-staged life cycles. These insects are also important in pest control and management. Like other insects, they have a special place in the cycle of life.