23 January 2010

Moth Lacewing - Ithone westraliensis – Ithonidae

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Moth Lacewing - Ithone westraliensis – Ithonidae

In the Australian Ithonidae family, there are currently 14 Moth Lacewing species that are divided into 3 genera with Ithone being the largest. From what I can gather this species, Ithone westraliensis, is the only one in the Esperance district and whose distribution reaches to the southwest and to the north of Perth. These Moth Lacewings belong to a primitive line of insects with fossils (discovered in Brazil, South America) dating back to the Early Cretaceous (over 100 million years ago) and as the majority of Ithonidae species are located in the Australian region, indicates a strong Gondwana connection.

Although never plentiful, this lacewing locally is not uncommon and can be encountered during December and January on warm, calm and humid nights, when some individuals (all male) are attracted to house lights. When I first came across these lacewings I did not know what they were and initially filed them under moths to be investigated later. This happened when I started collating the lacewings and after reading about them, I knew immediately where this species belonged.

They are chunky, growing to around 2.5 cm (1") in length and despite looking very much like a moth, their wings are hairy (not scaly) along the veins, plus they lack a proboscis, which is replaced by mandibles. The males have large claspers at the rear of their abdomen that are used to hold the female during mating; whilst the females apparently have a ploughshare-like ovipositor that is used to lay eggs (singularly) in sandy soil. The grub-like larvae dig into the soil in search of scarab beetle larvae on which it feeds. Moth Lacewings may not be spectacular to look at, but they are quite an intriguing invertebrate.