Green lacewings are ravenous garden predators commonly found throughout the continental United States. As with many of the beneficial insects we’ve discussed, there are many species that make up the green lacewing (Chrysopidae) family—nearly 100 in the U.S.—each with their own habits and life cycles. Because they’re often very difficult to distinguish from one another, the information below offers some general insight about these garden beneficials.
So That’s a Lacewing
You may have seen a green lacewing attracted to your household lights in the evenings. Most adult green lacewings have pale- to lime-green bodies about 1/2 inch long, with large, thin antennae; big, metallic-colored eyes; and long, clear wings featuring greenish veins that extend beyond the length of the body. They make their homes in fields, gardens and the perimeter of wooded zones. Adult females will lay several hundred eggs in their lifespan, which is a great because the lacewing larvae are the true predators of garden pests.
Feed the Children
Larval lacewings are between a 1/4 and 1/2 inch long, brownish in color with large hooked mandibles, and are somewhat similar in appearance to the larvae of ladybird beetles. They use their hollow mandibles to grab and desiccate small, soft-bodied insects, like aphids, earning them the name aphid lions. The larvae are indeed voracious predators. They also seek out scale insects, thrips, small caterpillars and assorted insect eggs. Getting to know the appearance of beneficial lacewing larva is important, so you don’t accidentally mistake them as pests.
Planting For Predators
While the adults of many lacewing species are not active predators, you still want to attract them to your garden to ensure reproduction and a regular population of beneficial lacewing larvae. Adult green lacewings typically feed on pollen and flower nectar and can be attracted to garden by planting native flowering plants, common ornamentals and even some herbs, including black-eyed Susan, milkweed, Queen Anne’s lace, Joe-pye weed, goldenrod, cilantro, dill and fennel. Think about planting several of these flowering species so that there are continual blooming plants from spring to early fall to attract adult lacewings and other beneficial species.
Think Before You Buy
Not to harp on the subject, but I generally don’t approve of purchasing beneficial species, such as lacewing eggs. Introduced insects are often not well acclimated to your specific region, will not often stay within the confines of the garden when released (although this is not the case for lacewing larvae —only the adults), and are often accidentally misidentified by sellers so they might not predate your problem insects.