African Tuesday: Duck-faced lacewings

Spoon-winged lacewings (?Nemia sp.) from Richtersveld National Park, South Africa [Canon 1Ds MkII, Canon 100mm macro, 2 x Canon 580EX]

Spoon-winged lacewings (?Nemia sp.) from Richtersveld National Park, South Africa [Canon 1Ds MkII, Canon 100mm macro, 2 x Canon 580EX]

Thread- and spoon-wing lacewings (family Nemopteridae) are related to antlions and similarly thrive in dry, sandy habitats. Although they are known from most parts of the world (with the exception of, sadly, North America), Africa is the real center of their diversity, and this is where over 80% of the 150+ known species are found.

These lacewings are easily recognizable thanks to their unique, extremely elongated or enlarged hind wings, reminiscent of the long plumes seen in some birds-of-paradise. The function of this unusual morphology is still not entirely known. In species with particularly enlarged hind wings their function appears to be to deter some predators by giving a false impression of the insect as much larger—and thus potentially stronger—than it really is. In species with long, thread-like wings their function may be related to the aerodynamics of the flight, and in members of the subfamily Crocinae the hind wings play a sensory function in cavernicolous habitats that these insects occupy.
Like antlions, larvae of thread-wing lacewings are predaceous, but the adult insects have more peaceful dietary preferences. They are pollen and nectar feeders, and their mouthparts are strongly modified from the typical, biting type found in their predaceous relatives. They are rather long and adapted for dipping deep into flowers, which gives their heads somewhat duck-like appearance. Interestingly, because of some species’ preference of sheltered, cave-like habitats, the larvae of these insects were first discovered in tombs of the pyramids of Giza in Egypt in the early 1800’s, giving rise to a nearly mythological status of these insects.

The head and mouthparts of spoon-winged lacewings is elongated and well-adapted for fitting into long corollas of flowers [Canon 1Ds MkII, Canon 100mm macro, 2 x Canon 580EX]

The head and mouthparts of spoon-winged lacewings is elongated and well-adapted for fitting into long corollas of flowers [Canon 1Ds MkII, Canon 100mm macro, 2 x Canon 580EX]

12 thoughts on “African Tuesday: Duck-faced lacewings

  1. Beautiful images! I cannot remember where I read that the eggs of a related species, Nemoptera aegyptiaca, are sometimes collected by ants (usually harvester ants from the genus Messor) and the larvae spend some time in the ants’ nest, prey on the smaller workers. I will try to find the reference.

    • Gil, let me know when you find the info. I have never seen the larvae of these insects, but they seem to be incredible, with extremely long “necks” and the ability to dive into the sand head first. I will be looking for them next time I am in southern Africa (which should be next month, fingers crossed.)

      • Piotr, what you describe sounds like larvae of the tribe Crocinae. Larvae of Nemopterinae are more robust and stout. I think you mean this:
        https://lh4.googleusercontent.com/-cJEwSoaq26s/USR6wvZ-IxI/AAAAAAAADw8/dsaljHei3A0/s900/nina2.jpg (it is a very old photo, not very crisp)
        This is the larva of Dielocroce hebraea, found in the fine dust on the floor of caves in the Israeli desert. I saw them feeding mainly on Reduviidae nymphs actually, but I am sure they can take down ants as well. They do dive into the dust when disturbed!

        Still trying to figure out where I heard about the larvae living in ant nests (but these would be Nemopterinae larvae). As soon as I find it I will let you know. Btw, I might see you in BugShot, but I am still working on it (a bit difficult for me to register from NZ).

    • Gil, that’s a cool photo of a larva of the Crocinae (btw, these are the ones found in Giza). And please do try to get to the BugShot, it is promising to be an amazing event, in a really great place.

      • Found the reference I was talking about –
        Monserrat, V. J., & Martinez, M. D. (1995). On the possible myrmecophily of Nemopterinae larvae(Neuroptera, Nemopteridae). Sociobiology, 26(1), 55-68.

        While I cannot access the paper online, I know that Popov’s paper from 2002 also mentions the association of Nemopteridae larvae and ants, and it is open-access:
        Popov, A. (2002). Autecology and biology of Nemoptera sinuata Olivier (Neuroptera: Nemopteridae). Acta Zoologica Academiae Scientiarum Hungaricae, 48(2), 293-299.

  2. Pingback: Ducky orchids and insects « Why Evolution Is True

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