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Neuroptera (Alderflies, Dobsonflies, Fishflies, Snakeflies, Lacewings, Antlions, Owlflies)

I. Background information


Neuroptera (Alderflies, Dobsonflies, Fishflies, Snakeflies, Lacewings, Antlions, Owlflies) Mantispidae - Brigham Young/VPI & SU PCD0330057

A. Origin of name

  1. Greek - neuro, sinew (not nerve); ptera, wings
  2. Relates to wing veins. However, actually relates to nervation or neuration meaning strengthening by sinews. This order was named long before nerves as a tissue were understood.

B. Classification

  1. Suborders - 3
    1. Megaloptera - 8 genera, 43 species (N. Am.)
    2. Raphidiodea - 3 genera, 21 species (N. Am.)
    3. Planipennia - 59 genera, 400 species (N. Am.)
  2. America north of Mexico - 13 families, 70 genera, 464 species
  3. World - ? families, ? genera, 4,670 species
  4. Estimate of undescribed species - 17% in N. America

C. Common names - Alderflies, Dobsonflies, Fishflies, Snakeflies, Lacewings, Antlions, Owlflies

D. Type of metamorphosis - Holometabolous

E. Phylogenetic relationships

  1. Often split into Megaloptera (alderflies, dobsonflies, and fishflies), Raphidioptera (snakeflies), and Neuroptera (=Planipennia) (lacewings, antlions, owlflies)
  2. Most primitive order of holometabolous insects
  3. Related to Coleoptera and Strepsiptera

II. Morphological characteristics

A. Four membranous wings with a great many cross veins and extra branches of the longitudinal veins.

B. Fore and hind wings similar in shape and veination. Held rooflike over the body at rest.

C. Soft-bodied

D. Mouthparts mandibulate

E. Antennae long and many segmented

III. Biological summary for the order

A. Life history

  1. Eggs - distinctive and can be used for taxonomic purposes.
    1. Sialidae - laid in even rows of 300-900 in compact masses on substrates overhanging aquatic habitat.
    2. Rhaphidiidae - eggs laid under bark and hidden areas.
    3. Sisyridae - masses of 2-5 oval whitish to yellow eggs are covered with a web of white silk.
    4. Laid singly or in clusters at the end of silken threads in many families.
  2. Larvae -
    1. Megaloptera
      1. Aquatic
      2. Many instars with 1-5 years to develop. Late stage larvae abundant in late winter or early spring.
    2. Raphidiodea
      1. Live under bark of trees and in soil.
      2. Semi voltine with 10-11 instars.
      3. Overwintering occurs in larval stage and occasionally in pupal stage.
    3. Planipennia
      1. Terrestrial
      2. Usually 3 larval instars
      3. Overwinter in all stages except eggs.
  3. Pupae
    1. Often form a silken cocoon to pupate or pupal cells in soil or organic material.
    2. Some pupae are able to move about prior to ecdysis.
  4. Adults

B. Habitat

  1. Aquatic species live adjacent to water. Sialidae adults are found on shore plants beside slowly flowing water near their larval habitat.
  2. Terrestrial species variable living on plants and stalking prey or under bark.

C. Habits (mode of existence)

  1. Most are predaceous as adults and larvae in aquatic and terrestrial habitats.
  2. Some do not feed.

D. Collecting and preserving

  1. Light
  2. Beating vegetation
  3. Pinned with wings spread on spreading board
  4. Many forms in 80% alcohol prior to pinning. Not recommended for Neuroptera.

E. Behavior

  1. Large mandibles of the male dobsonfly are used to �capture� females as part of the mating behavior.
  2. Snakeflies stalk prey in much the same manner as a snake. When an insect is within reach, the snakefly suddenly flexes its long neck and seizes prey with open jaws.
  3. Often very weak fliers.

G. Significance

Often of considerable interest for biological control purposes (esp. Chrysopidae). Some species mass reared and released to control aphids.

Insect Identification and Diagnosis Request

For the identification of insects and mites, contact a local Virginia Cooperative Extension office, or find information about offices in your state.