Episode 268 – Green Lacewing: A Bug in Sheep’s Clothing

“…and today we’re talking about a bug with junk in the trunk, but more on that later.”

Precious resources are often fiercely guarded. Only a clever wolf will ever taste mutton, and the rules remain in place in the insect world. The lacewing is a graceful insect that some mistake for delicate fairies, but their larval stage is an earthbound grub and an accomplished predator. But how does it steal its favored prey from watchful ant shepherds? Instinctual cunning can help you get around unnoticed in Life, Death, and Taxonomy.

Description of the Lacewing Bug

  • As a larvae, it looks like an earwig
    • Long, brown and white body
    • Black legs
    • Two large hooked mandibles like a Tremors worm
    • No wings
  • As an adult, it looks like a bright green dragonfly
  • Long, thin green body – four transparent wings – and two long antennae
  • They have two massive golden eyes

Measure Up

Welcome to the beloved Measure Up segment. The official listener’s favorite part of the show! The part of the show when we present the animal’s size and dimension in relatable terms through a quiz that’s fun for the whole family. It’s also the part of the show that’s introduced by you when you send in audio of yourself saying, singing, or chittering the words Measure Up into ldtaxonomy at gmail dot com. We don’t have a new Measure Up intro!


  • 6 to over 65 mm (2.5 inches)
  • How many lacewing wingspans go into the length of the Mississippi River?
  • Hint: The fastest time to row the length of the Mississippi River in a canoe took 17 days, 19 hours, and 46 minutes and was done by KJ Millhone, Casey Millhone, Rod Price, and Bobby Johnson in April 2021.
  • 57,936,384 lacewing wingspans. The river is 2,340 mi (3,765.8 km) long.

Egg Stalk

  • Eggs are laid on a thin 1 cm long strand on the underside of leaves.
  • How many lacewing egg stalks go into the longest human hair?
  • Hint: Humans might have the longest hair on earth. Contenders are horses and musk oxen. The average human adult taps out at around 100 centimeters (39 inches), but individuals can grow hair much longer than that. Musk oxen have an average around 40 inches. The longest human hair was achieved by Xie Qiuping in 2004 when she was 13 years old.
  • 562 egg stalks. Qiuping’s hair was 5.62 m (18 ft 5 in).

Fast Facts about the Lacewing Bug

  • Range: They live exclusively in Western Europe. From Spain in the south to the Norway in the north to Greece in the east.
  • Diet: As larvae, they’re ravenous hunters. They feed on aphids and other small insects. They can even kill and eat larger insects like caterpillars or even eat each other. They will climb onto their prey and inject them with digestive enzymes that liquefy their insides and turn them into a hard-shell smoothie. 
  • Behavior:
    • Communicate with vibrations
    • Not great fliers
    • The high green sensitivity of the superposition eyes allows the green lacewings to recognize fresh green leaves that they use to find honey dew produced by aphids, a site for egg laying and a resting place.
    • The larvae are used to kill aphids and pests on crops
    • After hatching, the larvae will eat and molt three times over the course of about three weeks until they spin a silk cocoon under a plant leaf. Two weeks later, the adult emerges.

Major Fact: A Bug in Sheep’s Clothing

If you live in the South, you may see a piece of lint or a bit of forest debris rolling across the ground, or maybe on a branch. But this pile of junk isn’t flowing in the wind, it’s moving with authority like the oldest of the family. 

The lacewing larvae stage are often called junk bugs or trash bugs. This is because they collect garbage and strap it to their backs like Yoel of Londor. 

These little trash collectors, picking up detritus and carrying it with them like tiny hobos riding the rails is a cute concept, until you take a closer look at what they are actually carrying. 

If you were to remove the junk from the junk bug and separate the pieces, you’d realize that the junk bug’s junk is bugs–the carcasses of other insects, hollowed out and desiccated. 

The junk bug is making a bug backpack and not just any junk will do.

Not only does the bug of junk have a trunk of bug, he keeps the corpses of his kills. Junk bugs are predators that have sharp stabby mouthparts. When they catch prey, they will slurp out the soft bits beneath the exoskeleton. Then the wrinkled up wrapper is placed upon their backs and stacked in a way that’s kinda whack.

In addition to insect bodies, the junk bug might collect moss and other bits and pieces that are lying around. 

By why? Some suggest that they do it as a way to camouflage from predators, like sneaking around in a bush like a cartoon character. Perhaps the extra exoskeletons offer excellent armor?

The real reason is even weirder. 

The junk bug is also called the aphid lion, because that’s their favored prey. But aphids have watchful shepherds that don’t like lions in their fields. As we know, ant colonies keep and protect aphids to harvest the sweet honeydew sweat that aphids produce. 

A junkless bug that’s looking to drink and aphid milkshake might be swarmed and tossed off a tree like it was caught by an invader while enjoying the Oracle Envoy’s tunes.

But the junk collecting bug will cloak itself in an aphid essence to sneak into the flock unawares.

Ending: So work on your flying skills, grab what you can with your mandibles, and build your own junkyard like the green lacing here in LDT.