Forest Preserve District of Cook County, Illinois
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Hellgrammites, Doodlebugs and Stink Flies
Nature Bulletin No. 379-A   April 25, 1970
Forest Preserve District of Cook County
George W. Dunne, President
Roland F. Eisenbeis, Supt. of Conservation


Many, many kinds of insects are called carnivorous because the adults or their young, or both, prey on insects or other animals -- notably the Praying Mantis, relatives of the grasshoppers. Such predatory species are also scattered among most of the other large groups typified by the dragonflies, bugs, beetles, flies, wasps and ants. However, sandwiched in between the so-called "lower" and "higher" insects, in most textbooks, is a little-known group called the Neuroptera or "nerve- winged" insects, all of which prey on other insects.

The soft-bodied, clumsily flying adults, with their four large gauzy wings crisscrossed by innumerable fine veins, often escape notice because they are seldom abundant and are most active at night. Some kinds develop in water, others on land, and have such an array of queer shapes and habits that it is hard to realize they are closely related.

As young fishermen, many of us became acquainted with the Hellgrammite -- that ferocious water creature with powerful pincers on its head and sharp hooks on the tail -- that we caught for bait by turning over rocks in swift creeks. Also called Conniption Bugs, they are the larval young of the Dobson Fly. The fearsome adult male, with his long crossed jaws, and the short-jawed female, have a 5-inch wingspread but are actually harmless. On some rock or tree over- hanging a stream she lays a whitish blob of eggs which hatch into tiny larvae that drop into the water. After three years of feeding on aquatic insects, baby fish and other prey, their dark flat tough bodies become about 3 inches long. Down each side is a row of fringe-like appendages and gill tufts which seem to make them attractive to fish -- especially bass and trout. At maturity, the hellgrammite crawls out on land where it pupates under a stone or log and hatches into the dobson fly. Alderflies and Fishflies, miniature editions of the dobson fly, are imitated by anglers in making artificial lures.

Adult Ant Lions, long-winged and slender-bodied, resemble a damselfly but fly only at night. The larvae are plump hairy creatures with a small head and long curved powerful jaws which, being hollow, are used to puncture their prey and suck out the juices. Some kinds bury themselves at the surface of sand or powdery soil, with only the jaws exposed, waiting days or weeks to seize an unwary ant or other insect. One species, often called "the Doodlebug", conceals itself at the bottom of a funnel-shaped crater which it digs by backing downward and snapping its head upward to toss the material aside. When a scouting ant tumbles in, the doodlebug flips a shower of sand so that the ant slides down to be grabbed. As boys, we used to tease them with a blade of grass and say: "Doodlebug, doodlebug, come out of your hole ! " In one to three years the larva reaches the size of a bean and spins a silken cocoon, underground, from which the adult ant lion emerges.

Most common of the Neuroptera, often coming to lights at night, are the delicate little Brown and Green Lacewings. The latter, pale green with long hair-like antennae and iridescent golden eyes, are about a half-inch long and are sometimes called "Stink Flies" because, if handled, they give off a very offensive odor. The female spins slender stalks of stiff silk, on plants, and places one egg on the tip of each. The larvae are called "Aphis Lions" because they feed voraciously on plant lice (aphids) which they stab with their hollow jaws and suck dry.

Such terrible children! No wonder their parents hide in daytime.

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