I featured a more common green lacewing on this blog back in September, 2020. Last week, I found a rarer, earth-toned cousin: the San Francisco lacewing.
Insect naming and categorizing is a tangled affair. This lacewing is in the green lacewing family Chrysopidae and in the genus Nothochrysa, which means, essentially, “not a green lacewing.” It’s like saying your name is Bond, not James, not Bond.
The common name doesn’t do us any favors either. It’s a San Francisco Lacewing and the species name is californica, roping in the rest of the state, but the insect can actually be found in wooded areas from British Columbia to southern California.
Lacewing eggs are laid at the end of a thin, threadlike stalk. Nothochrysa californica lays batches of 12 to 16 eggs on the edges of leaves or twigs. The description from a 1965 research paper is fascinating: After extending the abdomen to create the stalk, and laying an egg on the tip of it, females hold their abdomen still for about a minute to allow the stalk to dry and stiffen. Then they repeat this a dozen times, somehow without interfering with the eggs they’ve already laid.
Though the adult insect’s head is an egg-yolk yellow, the rest of it is muted stripes of brick-like brown and off-white. The pre-adult stages however, like a toddler who chooses their own clothes, are full of color.
Eggs are bright yellow-green with a lighter yellow region at the tip. As the embryo develops, the yellow-green area darkens to a gray-green. Later, the stalk end of the egg becomes blue-gray. Finally, the larvae inside begins to be visible, and it’s reddish.
Be on the lookout for the larvae! This species piles bits of debris on its back as camouflage, and it often uses larger pieces, more densely arranged, than other lacewings with this behavior. A link below shows one with its strange backpack.
Some online sources say this species is critically endangered. As far as I can tell, it was proposed three times, most recently in 1994, to be added to the Endangered Species List, but the case remains on hold.
See more of Karen’s work here.
A 1965 paper that details the stages of San Francisco Lacewing development: https://hilgardia.ucanr.edu/fileaccess.cfm?article=152639&p=LJBRLU. Accessed 4/15/22.
San Francisco Lacewing larvae from Coos County, OR: https://bugguide.net/node/view/705247. Accessed 4/15/22.