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As farmers we have to notice the little things—especially little things with voracious appetites like aphids, rust flies, and mites.When Steve comes in with a discolored leaf and gets out the magnifying glass, there’s always a little bit of dread while I wait for him to decide what tiny, tiny critter is wreaking havoc with the crop this time. But, some tiny critters are good for the farm. One of the purposes of our hedgerows is to attract beneficial insects – the ones that prey on the pests. Recently our daughter’s attention to the little things led her to make a fascinating discovery about one of those critters on our farm.
While I was climbing one of the numerous oak trees that populate the slopes of our farm and hedgerows, I noticed what looked like an ordinary small piece of moss on a branch. But before I moved on I was forced to take a closer look—this moss was moving! I watched intently as the insect (about the size of a lady bug) crawled along the bark blindly poking around with its two large pinchers to grab bits of moss and place them on its back to disguise itself. After some time the insect settled down into a crevice, looking unrecognizable as an insect. Curious as to what this creature was I looked it up and realized, to my surprise, that it was the larvae of a lacewing fly. This little blind camouflage artist was a beneficial insect enticed to our farm by our hedgerows and working hard to keep our farm pest free.
Lacewing larvae are voracious predators. This led to the nickname “aphid lion,” but they also eat other soft-bodied insects like spider mites, whiteflies, thrips, and other insect larvae. The oak was just one of the many habitats lacewing larvae can inhabit. Adult lacewings feed mainly on nectar and pollen, which is why the flowering plants in our hedgerows are so important. An interesting fact about adult lacewings is that tympanal organs on the base of their forewings give them very good hearing. Using this structure they can sense a bat’s echolocative clicks, and respond by closing their wings and falling to the ground. We know from the researchers who have done studies on our farm that we have a lot of bats on the property, so it’s good that the lacewings have a way to avoid being eaten. Let the bats eat the pest insects instead!
These insects are not only beneficial to our farm, but also pretty cute, and have fascinating ways to stay hidden from their predators.
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