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Mantispa, Mantidfly
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Mantispa, Mantidfly

Chrysoperla, Green Lacewing
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Chrysoperla, Green Lacewing
Myrmeleon, Antlion
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Myrmeleon, Antlion
Neuropterans have four membranous wings which ususally contain extensive branching of both the cross veins and longitudinal veins. It is this feature which gives the order its name. Their exoskeleton is not high in chitin and therefore they are soft-bodied insects. They undergo complete metamorphisis. Most of the larvae are predacious. There are ,however, two notable exceptions. The larvae in the family Sisyridae feed on freshwater sponges and the larvae in the family Mantispidae are parasites of the egg sacs of spiders (Borror, Triplehorn, and Johnson 1989). The classification system used below is not universal. Some sources will split the order into several. The order would be split into three: Megaloptera, Neuroptera, and Raphidiodea.

Neuroptera is derived from the Greek words "neuron" meaning sinew and "ptera" which means wings. This has developed in modern English to a common reference to the insects of this order. They are refered to as "nerve-wings" or "nerve-winged insects". However, this common reference is not misleading because the wings of Neuropterans are extensively branched and do, at least superficially, resemble the extensive branching of the neuritic interconections of the central neurvous system.

Neuroptera is a diverse order and some of the common names of its members are Alderflies, Dobsonflies, Fishflies, Snakeflies, Lacewings, Antlions, and Owlflies.

Larvae of Megaloptera are important predators in aquatic ecosystems. They also serve as food for fish and other aquatic vertebrates. Lacewing larvae are beneficial as predators of agricultural pests (aphids, whiteflies and scale insects). Some species are reared and sold commercially as biocontrol agents."-- (N.C. State University Entomology Dept.)

Taxonomic Category Scientific Name Common Name
Phylum Arthropoda Arthropods
Class Insecta Insects
Order Neuroptera Alderflies, Dobsonflies,
Antlions, and Owlflies

Geographic distribution
(N.C. State University Entomology Dept.)

North America
Number of Families 15 21
Number of Species 349 ~5,500

Click here for Megaloptera checklist from the Great Smoky Mountains.

Natural history

The order Neuroptera includes the lacewings and antlions (suborder Planipennia), dobsonflies and alderflies (suborder Megaloptera) and snakeflies (suborder Raphidoidea). "Splitters" prefer to assign each of these groups to a separate order (Neuroptera, Megaloptera, and Raphidioptera, respectively), based on differences in structure and development.

The Megaloptera are always aquatic as immatures. They live under stones or submerged vegetation and feed on a variety of small aquatic organisms. Large species, often called hellgrammites, may require several years of growth to reach maturity. Adults usually remain near water, although they are attracted to lights at night. In most species, the adults live only a few days and rarely feed.

Except for larval spongillaflies (family Sisyridae) which feed on fresh-water sponges, all members of the suborders Planipennia and Raphidoidea are terrestrial. Antlion larvae live in the soil and construct pitfall traps to snare prey. Lacewing larvae are usually found in vegetation where they typically feed on aphids, mites, and scale insects. Snakefly larvae live in leaf litter or under bark and catch aphids or other soft-bodied prey. In most cases, the adults of these insects are also predators -- the non-predatory species usually feed on nectar, pollen, or honeydew.

The larvae of antlions and lacewings have specialized mouthparts with large, sickle-shaped mandibles and maxillae that interlock to form pincers. Once impaled on these pincers, a prey's body contents are sucked out through hollow food channels running between the adjacent surfaces of the mandibles and maxillae.

As adults, all neuropterans have two pairs of membranous wings with an extensive pattern of veins and crossveins. At rest, the wings are folded flat over the abdomen or held tent-like over the body. Most species are rather weak fliers.

Larvae of Megaloptera are important predators in aquatic ecosystems. They also serve as food for fish and other aquatic vertebrates. Lacewing larvae are beneficial as predators of agricultural pests (aphids, whiteflies and scale insects). Some species are reared and sold commercially as biocontrol agents."-- (N.C. State University Entomology Dept.)

How to encounter

Adult Neuopterans can be found in many sitations. However, there are likely places to find members of several of the families. Families whose members are aquatic will be found near rivers and streams. This includes Corydalidae, Sialidae, and Sisyridae. Myrmeleontids live in the soil. Therefore, one will have to dig them up in order to find them. Members of the various lacewing families live on vegetation and thus sweeping with nets is a good way to uncover them. However, these limited life histories are restricted to adults. It is often far more difficult to uncover larvae.

Links to other sites

  • Borror, D. J., Triplehorn, C. A., and Johnson, N. F. 1989 An Introduction to the Study of Insects. pg 379. Saunders Publishing Company. Sixth Edition

  • Aeneas Murnane, Biology Major, University of Georgia, Athens
  • Thanks to Cassie, Carrie, Sabina Gupta, Denise Lim, and Dr. John Pickering for technical and web support in developing this page.

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(Greek, neuro = nerve; pteron = wing)
Common Names: lacewings, antlions
Distribution: Cosmopolitan


The relatively few families of Neuroptera in North America look strikingly different from one another, but each family is small, homogeneous, and easily recognized. The most common ones are the green lacewings, brown lacewings, and antlion. The tiny duskywings and the peculiar spongillaflies are common in the right habitats, but are rarely noticed. The mantis-like mantiflies (parasitoids of spider egg cases), the owlflies (predators) and the beaded lacewings (termite predators) are progressively rarer, with the latter more southern in distribution.

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