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By Therese Ciesinski, GardenSMART

As insects go, lacewings are one of the prettiest. Adults are bright green and have two sets of wings traced with delicate green veins; hence the name lacewing. Size-wise they’re less than an inch long, and slender, with big, copper-colored eyes and long antennae.

Lacewings are in the family Chrysopidae and there are about 85 species in North America. They are one of the most beneficial of the beneficial insects, right up there with ladybeetles.

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Photo credit: Alvesgaspar, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons.

Lacewings don’t sting or bite humans or animals. Certain insects, on the other hand, should be afraid, very afraid. In both their larval and adult stages, lacewings are eating machines.

As larvae they devour aphids, whiteflies, thrips, and scale, as well as caterpillars and insect eggs. They continue eating once adults, dining on insects, nectar, pollen, and honeydew, a secretion emitted by aphids.

Not strong fliers, lacewings eat, breed, and pupate camped out near potential meals. You are likely to see adult lacewings at night because they are attracted to lights.

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Photo credit: Alex Popovkin, Bahia, Brazil from Brazil, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons.

Females choose egg-laying spots near aphid colonies, so the newly-hatched larvae have a meal close by. Each tiny green lacewing egg hovers on a thin thread. Suspending them like that keeps the newly emerged larvae from eating each other.

Lacewing larvae look like little brown and white alligators, with large mandibles that they use to catch prey. They pupate in a fuzzy white cocoon on the undersides of leaves and will overwinter as pupa to emerge in the spring. They are about a half-inch long at their largest, and have the odd habit of covering themselves with debris as camouflage to prevent being eaten themselves.

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Photo credit: Sanja565658, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons.

To encourage lacewings, you must be okay with letting some aphids hang around your plants, otherwise the lacewings won’t have enough to eat. Don’t use pesticides in your garden, and when cleaning up in fall leave some plant material around so the pupa have a place to overwinter. And, of course, have plenty of nectar- and pollen-producing flowering plants to draw in lacewings and other beneficial insects.

Lacewing larvae can be ordered from companies that sell beneficial insects such as ladybeetles. Since they aren’t good fliers, they are more likely to stay around your garden (as long as there’s food) than other types of beneficials you might buy.

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