Members of the Neuropterida can be found just about anywhere; they are common in a variety of habitats including woodlands, arable land, gardens and hedgerows. In order to identify species of Neuropterida, investigation of characteristics that can only be seen under magnification is usually needed – this requires the insect to be collected and retained. As all species have the ability to fly bar one (Boreus hyemalis (Linneaus, 1767) collecting Neuropterida usually involves the use of a net, however hand-searching can also proof very effective.
The larvae of the Chrysopidae and Hemerobiidae can be found in similar habitats to the adult, often on the undersides of leafs and amongst vegetation where they feed on aphids and other invertebrates and are often encountered when searching for the adults. Larvae of the Sisyridae live in freshwater sponges and as such are rarely encountered, whilst that of Osmylus fulvicephalus (Scopoli, 1763) lives on the edge of stony streams and the larva of Euroleon nostras (Fourcro, 1785) lives in pits in the sand. The larvae of the Mecoptera can be found amongst the soil and leaf litter, those of the Raphidioptera in rotting wood. The larvae of the Megaloptera being aquatic, can be found by pond dipping in streams.
The easiest and most cost-effective method of collecting members of the Neuropterida is by hand. Many species of Neuroptera can be found on the undersides of leaves and amongst rank grass and vegetation. The Mecoptera are particularly easy to find, often associated with brambles and other low-growing vegetation. The Megaloptera are found on vegetation and structures near to water and can be easy to catch due to their sluggish behaviour. The Raphidioptera are less likely to be encountered when hand-searching due to their arboreal nature although they can sometimes be found amongst lower vegetation, particularly the females which lay their eggs in rotting wood.
A sweep net swung through grass and low-growing vegetation (avoiding such plants as bramble and rose which can tear a net apart) can yield a number of Neuropterida, particularly the Hemerobiidae and Chrysopidae.
Whilst most Neuropterida are crepuscular in their habit, a butterfly net can be useful for catching specimens of day-flying Neuroptera, for use around a light source or as a backup in case the target should take flight!
Using a beating tray is one of the most effective and productive methods of obtaining Neuroptera and Raphidioptera (although reaching the higher canopy can be tricky) as many species remain hidden during the day amongst foliage. By placing the beating tray beneath a branch and giving it a strike or a quick shake, any specimens will quickly drop and can easily be collected. It is often useful to have a second pair of hands in the vicinity to help with the collecting (or recapture!) of specimens as once disturbed some species are quick to take flight.
By using a deep sweep net or butterfly net the problems of using a beating tray (loss of specimens) can be overcome. The net is placed carefully over the end of the branch which is then struck or shaken. The net and contents are carefully retrieved, hopefully without loss.
References and further information:
- A Key to the Adults of British Lacewings and their Allies. Plant, C. W. (1997)
- Collecting Lacewings. Fraser, F. C. (1976)