Identifying and collecting lacewings and their allies

Unfortunately, to identify lacewings, snakeflies, alderflies and mecopterans to species level specimens usually have to be collected. This is because species are identified on characters that require a microscope to view. There are only a few exceptions to this, for example, the distinctive osmylid, Osmylus fulvicephalus, whose patterned wings, large size and red head separate it from all other British Isles neuropterans. In addition, the hemerobiid, Drepanepteryx phalaenoides, with its distinctively shaped hooked forewings separate it from all other British Isles neuropterans. The mecopteran Boreus hyemalis is also easy to distinguish from all other mecopterans without taking a specimen. With practice there are other species that can be identified in the field and from good quality photographs.

Osmylus fulvicephalus (O.F. Nielsen CC-BY)
Drepanepteryx phalaenoides (O.F. Nielsen CC-BY)
Boreus hyemalis (G.S. Martin CC-BY-SA)


If collecting specimens, firstly, remember not to do bulk sampling, as this can be detrimental for a population, whereas the collection of individual specimens will not cause any harm. See the Code of Conduct for Collecting Insects and Other Invertebrates for more details on responsible collecting. The best way to euthanize the insect is to place the tubes containing the insect into a deep freeze for a few hours; this is the most natural way as it is just bringing winter forward for the insect. Make sure the insect has thoroughly thawed out before handling, to avoid damage. Ethyl acetate in killing jars will also euthanize the insect (after 20 minutes) but may discolour green lacewings if left in for a long time – make sure you are aware of the hazards when using chemicals. 

If you do take a specimen it is important to note down at a minimum, the Date, Location name, OS Grid Reference/GPS Latitude and Longitude, and Recorder’s name. Other information such as collection method, habitat, any plant associations, temperature, time collected etc. are also useful to record. If the specimen is identified it is very useful to record the name of the person who identified it.

Light traps and sweep netting are good ways to collect specimens. If you want more information on lacewing and allies distribution, habitats and collecting techniques see:

Plant, C. W. 1994. Provisional atlas of the lacewings and allied insects (Neuroptera, Megaloptera, Raphidioptera & Mecoptera) of Britain & Ireland. Biological Records Centre, Institute of Terrestrial Ecology, Huntingdon, England. 203 pp.

All collected insects should be preserved, either pinned or in alcohol, with labels giving the Date collected, Location name, OS Grid Reference/GPS Latitude and Longitude, Recorder’s name, Species name, and Identifier’s name. For more information on preserving your specimens, see Plant, 1997.