Lacewings in the garden

I was out watering the plants yesterday (seems like the rainy season will never set in) when I noticed these little teeny eggs on stalks on a little bitty blade of grass. I ran inside to fetch my camera, then spent the next 5 minutes trying to rediscover the exact blade of grass. Not quite a needle in a haystack, but harder than I’d expected it to be. Success at last, though:

I at first assumed they were grass skipper eggs (I’m still not very far into my memorization of the butterflies), but after just a teensy bit of Internet research discovered that it’s far more likely that they’re one of the many Chrysopa species of lacewing found in North America. Lacewings are in the order Neuroptera (“nerve-winged”), along with mantisflies, dobsonflies, and antlions. The name of the order refers to the lacelike, “nervy” pattern of the veins in the wings, not their innervation or lack thereof.

Looking at the picture above, I thought that I could do better if I got the light in the right place, either with a fill flash or the simple expedient of putting the sun at my back. Yesterday, as happens from time to time, my camera-back display fooled me into thinking that I could see detail in the subject when there is none. But when I went outside to search for that little blade of grass, I couldn’t find it. Eventually I gave up, since my lunch hour was just about over, and the demands of child care and the office were growing louder.

But before I went back inside I did notice a couple of tiny things crawling around on the grass with debris piled on their bodies, making them look a bit like a spider, a bit bigger, and a lot meaner than they most likely are. I snapped a few shots for later identification, since something was tickling my memory about this form of cryptic camouflage. And what do you know? These are in fact (or at least with a high index of plausibility) the larvae from the very lacewing eggs I was trying to find! The claim to fame of several of the Chrysopa species of lacewings is that they pile crud on their backs!

I’m sure it’s a bit hard to see, but it’s there. Click on the picture if you don’t believe me; the larger version is much clearer. I wish I had a true macro lens instead of the all-around one I’ve got, so I could show these tiny things more clearly. I also wish I had a pony that ate weeds and pooped diamonds: You make do with what you’ve got! I’m just glad I was able to focus closely enough that I could blow up the picture so you could see the little buggers at all.

In case you’re wondering about size on this little guy, here’s a “thumbnail” reference:

It’s pretty rare that I get to follow up an observation of eggs with an observation of larvae on the very next day. I guess the continuing drought here in south Florida has some beneficial effects, at least for some people!