One bug’s trash is another bug’s treasure?
Roving through the vegetation, a predator wearing the skins of its victims is on the prowl – a lacewing larva! Often called the aphid wolf or trash bug, lacewing larvae patrol the stalks of plants in search of an easy meal – aphids. Aphids use piercing mouthparts to extract the liquids from plants, sometimes causing stunted growth or spreading diseases. Thankfully our lacewing larvae have huge appetites and a love of vintage clothing – the skins of its victims!
The skins, along with debris and plant matter create what is known as a ‘trash packet’, this strategy is ancient and has been used for at least 110 million years! The trash packet serves as protection against potential predators and can render the larvae undetectable to the formidable bodyguards of the aphids – ants! Some species of ants farm the aphids for a sweet, sugary substance called honeydew in exchange for protection; however, the ants seldom notice the wolf in sheep’s clothing amongst their ranks. This allows the predator to thin the aphid numbers, which in turn promotes healthy crops and plants in our garden.
The lacewing larva has special mouthparts, which act like piercing straws to suck their prey dry and then be tossed onto the pile like a strange trophy!
The delicate, ethereal adult lacewings can be tricky to find, because they rarely fly during the day and often live in the upper parts of trees; however, you may be lucky to encounter them if accidently disturbed. Adults lay the eggs on stalks and once the eggs hatch, the stalk is usually the first trophy on the pile.
So, if you see this extraordinary insect on your strawberries, rest assured that would-be pests may be added to its pile of trophies!
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