It’s my day for bug posts, apparently. This guy (or gal)…

Friday, August 29th, 2014

It’s my day for bug posts, apparently.

This guy (or gal) was on our living room wall this morning. What isn’t immediately obvious is that it’s huge; nearly 2 inches long.

The first thing I thought was that it was a dobsonfly, because in my flyfishing gear I have a giant wet fly that’s called a dobsonfly, and I’ve seen photos of them before and this was kind of similar-looking. But dobsonflies have big scary jaws (and can give a painful bite, apparently), and this one looked as mild as a big-eyed lamb, at least in the scary-mandibles department.

I guessed it was maybe some kind of megaloptera (a fishfly, maybe?), but Eric Eaton, author of the Kaufman Field Guide to Insects of North America, was kind enough to ID my photos on bugguide as giant lacewing, Polystoechotes punctata.

For such a big, adorable bug you’d think we’d know more about it, but apparently its lifecycle is still something of a mystery. I read this in an article from the University of Idaho’s web site:

The giant lacewing is an enigma, even to professional entomologists who have spent careers studying the order Neuroptera, which includes some 5000 species of lacewings. Rare now, the giant lacewing once clouded around the bright lights of a factory at night so thickly that passersby reported smoke was pouring from the building…

[William F. Barr Entomological Museum collection manager Frank] Merickel may rank as the scientist most familiar with the giant lacewing, which can measure nearly two inches long compared to its more common relative the 1/2-inch long green lacewing. Although Merickel may collect 30 to 40 of the insects a year as part of his 18-year fascination with the species, neither he, nor Johnson or anyone else knows how they live.”They were first described over 200 years ago,” Johnson said, “and we still don’t know where the larvae live or what they live on.”

The mystery probably means the giant lacewing, known to science as Polystoechotes punctatus, lives in the soil, because soil is so hard to sample for immature insects there.

Also weird, Merickel said, is that such an uncommon insect can suddenly, under the right conditions, appear by the hundreds in one spot. He believes adults may converge in pursuit of smoke, looking for burned areas to lay their eggs. The aggregating flights, the massive swarms so thick they look like billowing smoke, do not appear to be mating flights, however.

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