Physical Characteristics

Adult neuropterans (new-ROP-te-ruhns) are long, slender, soft-bodied insects measuring up to 0.12 to 3.15 inches (3 to 80 millimeters) in length with wingspans up to 5.63 inches (143 millimeters). The head is distinct with well-developed compound eyes, or eyes with multiple lenses. In owlflies, each compound eye is divided into an upper and lower section. Simple eyes, or eyes with only one lens, are found only in the moth lacewings. The chewing mouthparts are directed downward or forward. The antennae (an-TEH-nee), or sense organs, are long and thick, threadlike, feathery, or swollen at the tips. The thorax, or midsection, is divided into three segments. The first segment is shorter than the last two wing-bearing segments. In most species the four clear wings are long, narrow, and held like a roof over the body when at rest. The wings are reduced in size or absent in a few species. In most species the wings all have a lacey network of finely branched veins. The forewings may or may not be similar in size or shape to the hind wings. For example, the hind wings of spoonwing lacewings are very slender and shaped like long-handled spoons, while the forewings are shorter and normal in shape. The legs are long and slender. The legs of antlions and owlflies are spiny with well-developed claws for capturing insect prey on the wing. Mantidflies use the front legs for grasping insect prey. The abdomen is long and slender.

The larvae (LAR-vee), or young of an animal, do not resemble the adults at all and are wingless. Their bodies are usually flat and tapered at both ends; only rarely are they thick and phylum class subclass • order monotypic order suborder family grublike. Their heads are flat with mouthparts directed forward. The jaws are long and may be toothed or smooth. Some spongilla fly larvae have jaws that are longer than their bodies. The jaws are used for stabbing prey and sucking out their body fluids and tissues. Like most insects with chewing mouthparts, neuropterans have two sets of jaws that lock together to form a hollow tube that works as both a syringe and a soda straw. The larvae pump digestive chemicals through the tube into their victims and suck out their liquefied internal organs. They are equipped with only five to seven eyespots on each side of the head, and their eyesight is very poor. The antennae are long or short.

The thorax is usually short and wide, but on the larvae of spoonwing lacewings the first segment of the thorax is long and necklike. The legs are long in climbing species such as green lacewings. In antlions and owlflies, the legs are short and strong for digging. The legs are greatly reduced in mantidflies that feed on spider egg sacs. The abdomen is long or egg-shaped. Both thorax and abdomen may be covered with fleshy projections and bristly hairlike structures.

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