Christmas Bells

Christmas Bells
Christmas Bells - Blandfordia nobilis

Monday, February 20, 2012

Nymphes myrmeleonoides - a large yellow "Lacewing" at my door.

On a wet night, last weekend, a strange visitor came to my door.
I knew roughly what it was, but it took a bit more effort than one might have expected, to get the details right, for such a distinctive insect.
Nymphes myrmeleonoides - a large yellow "Lacewing"
I went to my usual source: Brisbane Insects and Spiders and went looking for "Lacewings".
I found my insect after just a few searches of various families within the Lacewing tribe, in the family Nymphidae.

The Chew family lists it as "Blue eyes Lacewing". The slightly informal (and ungrammatical) name struck me as likely to be irregular - more a "nick name" than a proper name. They also refer to it as the Common Lacewing. So I thought I would check further.

I checked under the scientific name given by the Chew website - "Nymphes myrmeleonides".

Dr Google likes to search for a familiar name (the one with the most cross-links), and when I entered "Nymphes myrmeleonides", I got a message asking if I wished to search for Nymphes myrmeleonoides. 
I declined the good Dr Google's suggestion and went with the name I had already found. Bad mistake, which has taken many hours to sort out.

Many people, it seems have followed what is a wrong name.

I found lots of cross-links back to "Blue eyes" but I was not finding any scientific linked sources. That worried me. Where were the authoritative CSIRO and Museum links?

Eventually I found the following note on a Chat Line:
  • Nymphes myrmeleonoides (Neuroptera: Nymphidae)---needs an extra "o" in there. Unfortunately, this name was accidentally misspelled in New's 1981 revision of the Australian species of this insect group, so this misspelling has gained some prominence in recent years.
Armed with that information I went to the Atlas of Living Australia and thence to the CSIRO Australian Faunal Directory. 
I found this note:
  • Nymphes myrmeleonides Leach, 1814 [subsequent misspelling]: Riek, E.F. 1970. Neuroptera (Lacewings). pp. 472-494 in CSIRO (ed.). The Insects of Australia. A textbook for students and research workers. Carlton : Melbourne University Press 1029 pp. [492]; New, T.R. 1982. A revision of the Australian Nymphidae (Inssecta: Neuroptera). Australian Journal of Zoology 29: 707-750 [711]
  • Even that notice has its own spelling error (Inssecta). It should be Insecta.
My mother, who worked in CSIRO, as a typist (that's what they were called back in pre-computer days) knew Edgar Riek personally, and she would be embarrassed on his behalf to see this error reported.

If you look at the previous descriptions for this species you find:
  • Gallard, L. 1935. Notes on the life history of the large yellow lacewing, Nymphes myrmeleonides. Australian Naturalist 9: 118-119 (life history)
  • New, T.R. 1982. The larva of Nymphes Leach (Neuroptera: Nymphidae). Neurology International2: 79-84 (larva)
  • New, T.R. 1996. Neuroptera. 1-104, 184 (App. III), 199-216 (Index) in Wells, A. (ed.). Zoological Catalogue of Australia Vol. 28. Neuroptera, Strepsiptera, Mecoptera, Siphonaptera. Melbourne : CSIRO Publishing, Australia 230 pp. [as Nymphes myrmeleonides [lapsus] of several authors]
Oh Dear! That's how the nice people in the Scientific community deal with spelling errors - they put [lapsus] a nice Latin word (in brackets) to disguise the fact that someone got the name wrong, and lots of people followed along behind.
(So it wasn't just my Mum's pal, Edgar - he was following a long line of Entomologists, since 1935.)


SO - LET US BE CLEAR - THE CORRECT NAME Nymphes myrmeleonoides ENDS IN "OIDES" - MEANING "RESEMBLING" OR "LIKE" AN "ANTLION" (Myrme for Ant, and Leo for Lion).

Nymphes myrmeleonoides - a large yellow "Lacewing"
Anyway, once I had ascertained the correct spelling, the links just tumbled out of the sky.
  1. Donald Hobern has it (many times) in his own site, plus on Encyclopedia of Life (EOL) (image of larvae)
  2. This is the formal entry in the Australian Faunal Directory - the "CSIRO official naming" site.
  3. And here it is in the Atlas of Living Australia. Go to the Gallery page for lots more images.
Nymphes myrmeleonoides - a large yellow "Lacewing"
This is an interesting page "Lacewing Development" which has excellent photos of the adult, eggs and larvae, courtesy of Keith Power in Toowoomba. That page also explains something about why this species is not classed within the "Antlions". The larvae of these insects live in leaf litter, so presumably they cannot form those cute little cones as traps for ants, as those traps only function in dry, loose, flowing sand. That is contrary to the statement at the end of this Wikipedia entry. (note that entry is under the wrongly spelled name). 
Another difference is highlighted on the Chew Family page on the family Nymphidae says: "Comparing with other lacewings families, species in this family have moniliform antennae".  

Moniliform - "The round segments make the antenna look like a string of beads. That certainly fits with my insect's fine long bead-like antennae - e.g. Beetles". 

Head and feet view - click to enlarge.
One can just see the "beetle-like" beaded antennae.
Head and feet of Nymphes myrmeleonoides
Finally another note: The "Split-footed Lacewings", Nymphidae, are a family of winged insects of the order Neuroptera. Split-footed lacewings stand somewhat apart from other living Myrmeleontoidea. The antlions (Myrmeleontidae) and the owlflies (Ascalaphidae) are more closely related to them, but the bulk of the Nymphidae's relatives includes extinct groups known only from fossils. Source: Wikipedia - Nymphidae

As a matter of interest, you can see the "split foot" on my specimen (lower right side of the last image - above).


Flabmeister said...


I see a new field of study emerging: "Egregious typos by taxonomists".

Just after reading your post I was looking at birds of Sri Lanka and found a parrot Psittacula calthorpae also referred to as P. calthropae. On looking into it the second is to be preferred as the bird was named by Edgar Layard in honour of his wife Barbara Anne Calthrop.

As far as I can see, the lady had no connection to the anti-cavalry device.


Denis Wilson said...

Hi Martin
Pointing out "egregious errors" is a dangerous sport. I am sure I am guilty on occasions, myself.
But the wrong name (albeit a simple spelling error) lead me up so many blind alleys.
Once I got that problem cleared, all the other data, which I knew must exist,, became available via search engines.
Very frustrating.
Incidentally, these insects are attractive and distinctive with their fluttering flight patterns.
I should have mentioned that in the text. I might edit that in.
PS - your lady obviously was related to the other group of relatives who could not spell - over there on Mugga Way, in Calthorpe House.
Even that is confusingly spelled Calthorpes' House, Calthorpe's House and Calthorpe House.
Just as well that you and I are "perfect in every way".

Anonymous said...

Thank you! An informative post. One came in last night when I was desperately trying to cool the house down. I'd seen them before but had a spot of bother finding the right search terms. I didn't think of it as a lacewing, being more familiar with the green variety. This one holds it's wings rather differently to other lacewings - not so closely tented. It is now sitting on the window next to me - a little guest for Christmas ;)