With all the rain this winter we’ve had an emergence of large insects that look somewhat like a giant mosquitoes or what my neighbors called "long-legged wasps." Here is what they are seeing (the thumb is for scale).
They have nothing to be concerned about. This big, fragile fly is called a crane fly.
Crane fly adults are often over an inch long with two flimsy wings that they hold straight out from their sides when at rest. Although their appearance is unusual, crane flies are truly gentle giants of the insect world. They don’t bite or sting. In fact, they do not even feed as adults. Their only interest is finding other crane flies.
The photo of the adult was from a few years ago. This afternoon my son found the larva while digging in some soil.
The larval stages of crane flies are sometimes called leatherjackets because of the leathery-looking covering over their bodies. I was able to capture the end of its abdomen as it crawled away, so you can see the tubes it breathes with when it is under water. You can see the outline best in the shadow behind it.
The larvae munch on dead leaves piled up in wet areas, part of nature’s clean up crew. With all the rain storms we’ve had lately, the crane flies have had a lot to eat and so we have a lot of them.
Interestingly, the larva emitted a brownish substance from the tip of its abdomen as it crawled away, almost like the “chewing tobacco” that grasshoppers make from their mouths if you pick them. I’ve never read anything about crane fly larvae having chemical defenses, but that’s what it looked like.
I'm afraid this larva was moving too fast for a good photo. For better views, you might want to check these truly spectacular photos of crane flies.
Lacewings are pretty common in Arizona and I found another lacewing larva last week. (Check previous posts about the life cycle of lacewings).
This lacewing was walking on the silk cocoon of a moth. You can just see the outline of the pale green moth pupa under the white strands of silk of the cocoon. I think the lacewing larva was trying to get inside, without much luck.
See its long jaws? I think it might be the larva of a brown lacewing, rather than a green lacewing, because it looks a bit different. The brown lacewing adult has brown wings, hence the name. They aren't as fragile-looking as the green lacewing and we tend to find them more often in the colder months.
When we looked for insects today, we found some insect eggs on our lemon leaves. What are they?
Lacewing Life Cycle
Can you see the egg? It is the white oval on the hair-like stalk.
The insect that laid this egg was featured as "Bug of the Week" early on. It is the beautiful green lacewing adult.
The egg has actually hatched, because it is white and the end is open. The lacewing larva that crawled out probably looks something like this on I found on June 18.
When the larva has finished development, it spins a cocoon around itself, forming what looks almost like a spider egg case. In fact, I'm sure a lot of green lacewings are destroyed each year due to mistaken identity.
My son and I found this lacewing cocoon underneath a bird's nest that fell out of a tree last week.
The green lacewing is a beautiful, beneficial insect that goes through a lot of changes during its life cycle.
For more information for kids, try:
Nature Close-Up - Ant Lions and Lacewings by Elaine Pascoe
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