The Neuropterida are more commonly known as alder flies (Megaloptera), snake flies (Raphidioptera) and lacewings (Neuroptera). They possess large veined wings and are easily recognizable, being distinct from other invertebrate groups.
Worldwide there are over 15,000 species of Neuropterida, although there are currently only 76 species (3 Megaloptera, 4 Raphidioptera and 69 Neuroptera) present in Britain and Ireland. Whilst the Mecoptera (scorpion flies) are not directly related to the Neuropterida, they are included here for historical reasons (and a website devoted to British and Irish Mecoptera would be rather brief with only 4 species present).
Renewed interest and research into the Neuropterida has been fostered by the publication of the AIDGAP guide “A Key to the Adults of British Lacewings and their Allies” by Colin W. Plant. Prior to this many publications were inaccessible to the amateur – the AIDGAP guide provides simple and easy to use keys for nearly all species that can be found in Britain and Ireland (the publication is now over ten years old and is obviously lacking some recent colonists).
In order to identify members of the Neuropterida certain characteristics such as wing venation and colour variations have to be noted which requires collection of the insect. The Neuropterida can be found in almost any habitat in Britain and Ireland (indeed the home often provides shelter during the winter months for Chrysoperla carnea sensu stricto (Stephens, 1836)) and the Neuroptera (lacewings) in particular are attracted to light. The Megaloptera are commonly found on vegetation near water, the larva being aquatic as are members of the family Sisyridae (Neuroptera). The Raphidiidae (snake flies) are encountered less often due to their arboreal nature, but can be found by beating and sweeping the higher branches of native trees. Other members of the Neuropterida and the Mecoptera (scorpion flies) can be found by hand searching and sweeping in both low-growing vegetation and branches.
In extreme cases the insect may need to be dissected in order to examine the genitalia to obtain identification to the species level. Members of the Neuropterida are particularly numerous insects and the removal of a small number to enable accurate identification is no threat to their continued survival. Several species are considered rare however, although if this is due to a natural scarcity or a lack of recording is unknown – only one is on the UKBAP species list: Megalomus hirtus (Linnaeus, 1761), the Bordered Brown Lacewing.
Members of the Neuropterida are fascinating insects with a large amount of variation within appearance, habits and nature. They are a excellent group to specialize in, having less than 100 species (most being easily identifiable) allows the entomologist to become familiar with the whole group and the limited knowledge of their distribution and lifestyles, particularly in the early stages allows remarkable discoveries to be made by anyone.
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