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.