New Zealand Entomology/Neuroptera

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CHAPTER VII

The Neuroptera.

The Order Neuroptera, as here considered, is a very limited one, consisting only of the seven small families, which comprise the Lace-wings, Ant-lions, Caddis-flies, and a few others. It forms a most convenient passage from the insects undergoing a complete metamorphosis with a quiescent pupa, to those which are active during the whole of their life, as the larvæ are widely different from the adults, but the pupæ, although incapable of walking or eating, approximate very closely in structure to the perfect insects. I regret that my observations have been at present restricted to three families only, i.e., the Hemerobiidæ, Sialidæ, and Phryganidæ, which will consequently have to represent the entire series. I understand, however, from Mr. A. S. Atkinson, that a species of Myrmeleontidæ (Ant-lion) is not uncommon round Nelson, and doubtless future investigation will reveal insects belonging to the other families.


Family Phryganidæ.

Oxyethira albiceps (?) (McLach.) (Plate XIV., fig. 3, 3a larva, 3b pupa).

This insect occurs in the neighbourhood of ponds and streams during the summer. Its larva may be found [ 100 ]commonly in the green, slimy weed floating in large masses on all stagnant waters. Being very small it is rather difficult to detect, and is best procured by washing a small quantity of the weed in a saucer of water, when the little insects will be at once seen walking about at the bottom. On examination with the microscope the case will first arrest attention, being of a most unique structure. Its shape is best described as closely resembling that of a minute pocket-flask, very much flattened at the lower end and almost transparent. Its surface is slightly corrugated, and the neck of the flask constructed of a much denser material than the body. It is open at both ends, the posterior end being perforated by a long shallow slit, which extends for nearly the whole width of the case, thus admitting a free circulation of water round the larva, which is also able to turn round and project its head and anterior segments through the lower aperture, thus occupying the reverse position to that shown in the illustration (Fig. 3a). It is, however, prevented from actually leaving the case by its abdomen, which is too large to be withdrawn from either end. The head and thorax of the larva are very horny in comparison with those portions permanently retained in the case, the legs being constructed to fold up into the smallest possible compass, a cavity existing in each joint for the reception of the preceding one—a structure which is almost universal among the caddis-worms. The two organs, situated on the posterior segments, are doubtless respiratory in their function, a large air-tube taking its rise from each and ramifying through the body in all directions. When alarmed these insects retreat into their cases with lightning rapidity, remaining concealed until the danger is passed. Their food probably consists of the green weed, although they are perhaps carnivorous, feeding on the rotifers and other animalculæ, which swarm in the water where they are found.

[ 101 ]With regard to the method employed by the young larva in constructing, and subsequently enlarging, its case, I can give no positive information, although it is undoubtedly made of a viscous fluid, secreted by the insect, which hardens when exposed to the water; this secretion is no doubt analogous to the silk of caterpillars, which always exists in the form of a gummy fluid before being spun.

When about to change, the insect fixes its case down by four ligaments, two at each end, the extremities of these being firmly fastened to a stone; it then closes the small aperture, and constructs a curious arch-shaped partition, of dense material, a short distance from the broad end (Fig. 3b). In about a week's time the larva is transformed into a pupa, having the limbs, &c., free from the body but incapable of motion. The fixing down of the case prior to the change may be easily performed from each of the apertures, which are no doubt left open till the last for this purpose. Before the final transformation the pupa breaks through the partition at the broad end of the case and rises to the surface, the imago (Fig. 3) ascending a blade of grass to dry and expand its wings. The little exuvia of the pupa may be often noticed floating on the water, and the empty cases are very conspicuous on the sides of a glass aquarium, where the insects generally fix them down when in captivity.


Family Hemerobiidæ.

Stenosmylus incisus (Plate XIV., fig. 2).

This lovely insect is figured as an example of this family, being found occasionally in the New Zealand forest, but is rather scarce as a rule. I regret that nothing is at present known of its transformations.


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Family Sialidæ.

Chauliodes diversus (Plate XIV., fig. 1, 1a larva, 1b pupa).

During still warm weather, from December till March, this large insect is frequently observed flying lazily over water at dusk, when it may be readily captured with the ordinary net. Its larva is aquatic, living under stones in running streams, where it devours large quantities of Ephemeræ and other insect larvæ, which are always abundant in those situations. It is very ferocious and will bite violently when disturbed, being furnished with a pair of powerful mandibles. The curious filaments on each side are gills, and it will be noticed that they are situated exactly where the spiracles of the perfect insect afterwards appear (see Fig. 1a).

This larva probably lives over a year, its growth proceeding very slowly, but mature specimens are not infrequently met with quite as large as the illustration. When full-grown it leaves the water and forms an oval cell in the mud, usually under a large stone; its gills then gradually shrivel up, and in ten days or a fortnight it is transformed into the curious pupa, shown at Fig. 1b, from which the perfect insect proceeds in about six weeks' time. The sexes of this species may be readily distinguished by their size, the male being considerably smaller than the female (Fig. 1), and possessing longer antennæ.


PLATE XIV.
Neuroptera.
Fig. 1.—Chauliodes diversus.
" 1a.—Larva.
" 1b.—Pupa.
" 2.—Stenosmylus incisus.
" 3.—Oxyethira albiceps. (?)
" 3a.—Larva.
" 3b.—Pupa.
Plate XIV.