A debris-carrying lacewing larva carries an insect leg as it walks on a plant stem

Undercover Larva

The fluffball was on the move. And it carried a big stick.

I immediately recognized the fluff as a debris-carrying lacewing larva. These insects wear impressive camouflage. Sometimes I’ll see plant material, bits of lichen, or spider silk. Or dead insects; carcasses the larva piled on its back after sucking out the victims’ guts. But never had I seen a larva sporting such an outsized element of disguise.

Watch that larva carrying what looked like a stick: On closer look,  the ‘stick’ was part of an insect leg. Whoa…if the larva ate that long limb’s owner, it must have swallowed a mighty meal!

Lacewing larvae have voracious appetites for aphids and other leaf-eating bugs. Their debris-carrying is presumed to protect them from predators while helping them sneak up on their own prey. Not all lacewing species have larvae that carry debris. The ones that do are easy to spot. They’re clunky walkers—no zipping through the foliage, especially when transporting an ambitious debris load.

Beneath its trash heap, the larva looks alligator-like.

A view of a debris-carrying lacewing larva that shows the larva's body beneath the debris pile.
This alligator-like lacewing larva carries a big load.

I didn’t see the leg-wielding larva add anything to its camo. But I did film another larva early in the debris-building stage. Here’s a glimpse:Did you see how hard the insect worked to pick and stick debris? If all that effort helps the larva survive, not only will some trees keep their healthy leaves. If I’m lucky, I’ll see this beautiful adult after the larva pupates:

A green lacewing adult against a black background.
By photographer Brad Smith, this photo explains the insect’s name.

And… a related children’s book is Look Again: Secrets of Animal Camouflage, by Steve Jenkins and Robin Page. The book’s stunning illustrations show how animals, including insects, hide in plain sight. Each page challenges a child to look twice—or more! — to find hidden creatures.

If you’d like to learn more about debris-carrying lacewings, Joe Boggs of Ohio State University’s extension wrote an interesting article with lots of great photos.

Image Credits: Carol Doeringer, Brad Smith.

6 thoughts on “Undercover Larva”

    1. Carey, that means a lot to me. Thank you! I feel so fortunate to see what I see, and it’s a privilege to share.

    1. Thank you! I find their waddle-y walk is just unusual enough that it catches my eye. I saw more of them this summer than in prior years; not sure why. They’re fun to watch!

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