Leaf Litter Larva in Australia - Observation of the Week, 6/29/19

Our Observation of the Week is this Osmylops Split-footed Lacewing larva, seen in Australia by @dhobern!

As a primary student in the UK, Donald Hobern remembers that his two school projects were “Animals” and “Wildlife,” explaining to me “my teacher forced me to expand the topic a little by including some plants.” Although interested in insects, he found contemporary guides lacking and thus got into birdwatching. “I also got involved in local naturalists' societies working on reserve work parties or watching over nests of Little Terns,” he recalls. “Here's a picture of me (on the left) from the local newspaper sometime in the mid seventies.”

By the 1990s, Donald - equipped with the internet and improved field guides - got into mothing and graduated from sketching (below) to digital photography. He eventually started working for the Global Biodiversity Information Facility (GBIF) in 2007, and says “since then, I've had the privilege of working on international efforts to improve access to biodiversity data (GBIF, Atlas of Living Australia, now International Barcode of Life and Species 2000). Personally, I've continued to study and photograph moths and pretty much any other species I encounter.”

One of those species, of course, is the remarkable insect at the top of this page. Looking for caterpillars in the Eucalyptus leaf litter by his home in Canberra, Donald placed some leaves in this emergence trap. “One of the first insects to appear, sitting on the inside of the upper plastic container was this larva,” he explains.

I would never have spotted it sitting on the surface of a leaf. Even on the clear plastic, at first glance, it could have been a dirty spot or some mould. The projections from the abdomen softened the shape considerably…

It mostly sat very still with the jaws completely drawn back and hidden behind the front fringe of the abdomen...At one point, it was sitting facing very close to the edge of the tin and an ant ran past in front of it. The jaws clearly snapped shut and hit the edge of the tin because there was a ringing noise and it was propelled backwards several centimeters.

Lacewings are members of the order Neuroptera, an order which includes other insects such as antlions and owlflies, and the bizarre (and totally cool) mantidflies. Split-footed lacewings, like this one, are actually taxonomically distinct from the more familiar green and brown lacewings, but like other neuroptera larvae, they have large mandibles and are predatory. After undergoing metamorphosis, they will look like this.

Donald (above, in Madagascar) has been an iNat user since 2012, and uses it to manage his own observations. He adds IDs to observations of plume moths, where he is far and away the top identifier, as well as Australian lepidoptera. “I greatly appreciate the expertise of others who amaze me with their wide international knowledge of groups I consider much more difficult than moths (beetles, true bugs, grasshoppers, etc.), 

I also value the way that iNaturalist enables my observations and those of the whole community to contribute via GBIF to research questions, conservation and improving the knowledge base we need to understand biodiversity patterns and trends.

I continually recommend iNaturalist as far and away the best and most comprehensive platform to amateur naturalists and others to share their observations and learn from one another.

- by Tony Iwane. Photo of Donald Hobern in Madagascar by Kyle Copas.

- You can check out more of Donald’s photos on Flickr.

- Green lacewing larvae will cover themselves with debris - including the remains of their prey!

- This isn’t the first larval neuropteran that was chosen as Observation of the Week!

Posted by tiwane tiwane, June 30, 2019 04:11



Thanks Donald for being such a huge inspiration both as a naturalist and as someone working to get the global biodiversity house in order. Here's a pic I took from a moth-light in 2013 which is the first time I really got into mothing - from left to right: Donald Hobern, Yasser Ansari, Ken-ichi Ueda, and Jerry Powell

Posted by loarie over 1 year ago (Flag)

So neat! I think this photo might be the one that spurs me to buy a microscope! Thanks for sharing.

Posted by mira_l_b over 1 year ago (Flag)

What a fabulous creature, and what extremely scary mandibles!

Posted by susanhewitt over 1 year ago (Flag)

Oh, yes!...the natural world has so many really wondrous creatures!!! Never ceases to AMAZE!

Posted by katharinab over 1 year ago (Flag)


Posted by lisa_bennett over 1 year ago (Flag)

Happy to see one of my favorite insects here in such beautiful quality. What an interesting species as well!

Posted by lazarus over 1 year ago (Flag)

That's amazing and inspiring.

Posted by paul_norwood over 1 year ago (Flag)

Donald identified lots of moths that I had observed in and around our UK house - thanks again for this generosity!

Posted by lera over 1 year ago (Flag)

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