It is rare for a human being to get a green lacewing bite from an adult green lacewing – Chrysoperla rufilabris and related species. Mature green lacewings feed on pollen and the honeydew left behind by aphids, posing little to no risk to human beings. However, a green lacewing bite is possible from lacewing larvae.
What Are Green Lacewings?
The lacewings insect belongs to the scientific order Neuroptera. All of the species in this order have a specific wing characteristic: A delicate system of veins that make their thin, delicate wings appear like lace.
The order is further divided into the Chrysopidae, or green lacewings, and the Hemerobiidae, the brown lacewings.
About 85 genera of Chrysopidae exist in the world, accounting for between 1,300 and 2,000 known species of lacewing green only, not even including the brown.
It is often difficult for even entomologists to tell the different species of green lacewings apart, although some can be differentiated by their vibrational mating calls.
Their compound eyes are typically gold or copper in color. In addition to their lace-like wings, adult lacewings can be identified by their slender body, green color, and length of between 1 and 1.5 centimeters. The lacewing green coloration might be bright or subtle.
Green Lacewing Habitat
Chrysoperla carnea, the common green lacewing, is native to Europe, North America, and some parts of Asia. Two locations where green lacewing populations have been apparently unable to establish themselves successfully are New Zealand and India.
The Lacewing Life Cycle
Lacewing insects have a four-stage life cycle. They begin life as eggs, then hatch into lacewing larvae, then build a cocoon and enter a pupal stage, then emerge as adult lacewings and begin the process again by laying eggs.
Female adult lacewings can each lay up to 200 eggs, which they deposit on stalks on the underside of leaves.
These leaves are most often located near a community of aphids, small plant-sucking bugs of the family Aphididae. Female lacewings secrete a thin stem called an egg stalk and lay one egg on each stalk. Only one egg can be laid per stalk in order to prevent the green larva from eating other, unhatched eggs.
Green lacewing larvae are voracious predators. They feed on aphids and any other soft-bodied species they encounter, such as moths and caterpillars.
A green larva feeds by using its sucking mouth parts to suck the bodily fluids out of their prey. Because of these sucking mouth parts, it is possible that larvae bite humans.
Green lacewing larvae are also known as aphid lions or aphid wolves because they prey on colonies of aphids and other insects. Chrysoperla carnea have been observed to feed on 70 different species of bugs.
The larvae feed like this for two to three weeks before they build cocoons and go into their pupil stage. Although it is rare that the bug larvae would have reason to bite a human being, such lacewing bites are possible given the voracity of green lacewing larvae.
Use as Beneficial Insects
Aphids are destructive to many kinds of plant life because they reproduce rapidly and can quickly overwhelm a plant. Lacewing larvae may be intentionally introduced into an environment as beneficial insects (also known as “biological pest control”) with the hope that they can control the population of aphids.
Bites from adult lacewings are very unlikely since the adult feeds on aphid honeydew and plant pollen. In rare cases when food is scarce, they have been observed to cannibalize their own lacewing larvae.
Green Lacewing Bites
The chance of receiving a green lacewing bite is quite small, even from the predatory green lacewing larvae. Even when colonies of green lacewings are introduced into an environment to help control the aphid population, once the lacewings are allowed into open air environments, they tend to disperse widely.
Thus, one is unlikely to encounter large numbers of the larvae or to disturb them unless one happens to come into contact with a plant on which they are feeding on aphids.
Preventing a Green Lacewing Bite
Bites can be prevented by using common precautions for avoiding all biting insects. These include:
- Avoiding bug repellant products that also contain sunscreen.
Repellant and sunscreen should be applied separately
- Covering exposed skin on your body by wearing long sleeves and long pants as much as possible, as well as socks and a hat, especially when walking through tall grass
- If necessary, sleeping under a net treated with permethrin that can also be tucked under the mattress so that pests can’t get into your bed while you are sleeping
- Letting sunscreen dry on the skin before applying a repellant product
- Tucking your shirt into your pants and your pants into your socks for added protection if you cannot avoid walking through tall grass
- Using a bug repellant spray that contains at least 20% DEET (diethyltoluamide)
Treating a Green Lacewing Bite
In the event that one receives a green lacewing bite, most lacewing bites can be treated with a cool compress, such as a washcloth dampened with cold water or ice wrapped in a washcloth, to relieve minor irritation and swelling.
Over-the-counter remedies that contain hydrocortisone, lidocaine, or pramoxine can also be used to relieve minor itching, as can calamine lotion or lotions containing colloidal oatmeal or baking soda.
Taking an oral antihistamine can also help reduce swelling and itching, but may cause drowsiness. For minor pain, one can take an over-the-counter pain reliever such as acetaminophen or aspirin.
Signs of a more severe reaction to an insect bite or sting include difficulty breathing, dizziness, faintness, confusion, hives, rapid heartbeat, nausea, vomiting, cramps, or swelling of the eyelids, lips, or throat.
If any of these symptoms occur, treat it as a medical emergency and seek immediate medical help.