Neuroptera: India

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Faunal Diversity in India: Neuroptera

This is an extract from


Edited by

J. R. B. Alfred

A. K. Das

A. K. Sanyal.

ENVIS Centre,

Zoological Survey of India,



( J. R. B. Alfred was

Director, Zoological Survey of India)


Neuroptera are soft-bodied insects and include a variety of small to large insects. They are readily recognised by the fine net work of veins of generally transparent wings and well developed antennae. The wings are held roof-wise over the back at rest and are generally similar in size, shape and venation. The mouth parts are adapted for chewing, with strong mandibles, maxillae and well developed labium. In majority, the thoracic segments are subequal. Abdomen is lO-segmented with eight abdominal spiracles. The larvae are predacious, aquatic, semiaquatic, arboreal or terrestrial. The pupa is pupa libera.

Status Of The Taxon

The order Neuroptera was erected by Linnaeus (1758). Later it was found that Linnaeus's Neuroptera represented a heter9genous group being formed of a large number of heterometabolic and holometabolic insects. These insects later were separated into orders of their own, namely, Odonata, Plecoptera, Ephemeroptera, Psocoptera, Mecoptera, Trichoptera, beside true Neuroptera. Popularly, the neuropterans may be called as Dobson flies, Alder flies, Fish flies, Snake flies, Lacewings, Antlions and Owl flies. The name Neuroptera is presently used in two different senses. Some authors divided Neuroptera into three orders namely, Megaloptera, Raphidioptera and Neuroptera (5. sir.), while others split Neuroptera into two suborders, Megaloptera and Planipennia as conceived in the present paper. These two suborders contain seven superfamilies which include twenty families from all over the world. These families are Corydalidae, Sialidae', Raphididae (including Inocellidae). Ithonidae*, Coniopterygidae, Dilaridae, Berothidae, Polystoechotidae*, Sisyridae, Mantispidae, Hemerobiidae, Chrysopidae, Psychopsidae*, Osmylidae, Neurorthidae*, Nymphidae*, Myrmeleontidae, Ascalaphidae, Stilbopterygidae* and Nemopteridae. The families marked with asterisk are not represented in India. The taxonomy of the majority of the families of Neuroptera is confused and difficult to study due to large number of inadequately described taxa. These descriptions lack information required for the determination of the species.

Global Status Numerically, about 5000 species are known from the whole world of which the family Chrysopidae with about 1350 species (Tjeder, 1966), Myrmeleontidae with more than 1200 species (Richards and Davis, 1977) and Hemerobiidae with about 800 species (Tjeder, 1961) constitute about 67"10 of the total global neuropteran fauna. Indian Status A total of about 335 species under 125 genera and 13 families are known from India. The suborders and family-wise break up are as follows: Suborder Family Genera Species


The presence of diverse ecosystems and habitats in India has given scope for rich species diversity. Neuropterans are found in the Himalayan ecosystem, desert ecosystem, terrestrial ecosystem of Peninsular India and insular ecosystem. Of these, the diversity is more in the Himalayan ecosystem. This may be assessed by the existence of about 128 species of Neuroptera (about 38% of the total Indian neuropteran fauna) from North-East India comprising of nine states, namely, Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Meghalaya, Manipur, Nagaland, Mizoram, Tripura, West Bengal (Darjeeling) and Sikkim. Due to varied climatic conditions, a wide variety of vegetation are found in North-East India. This includes evergreen and semi-evergreen forests, grasslands and swamps upto an altitude of 900 m., temperate and alpine vegetation. In these places, cereals under terrace cultivation, fruits and beverages are common. Due to wide variety of vegetation, North-East India is important for the insect species richness. In the Peninsular part, the floristics are rather exclusively composed of tropical elements including cereals, pulses, fruits, etc. Such richness of flora evidently invites a large number of insects or mites on which these neuropteran insects predate.

Therefore certain areas of Peninsular India are rich in neuropteran diversity. In Desert and Insular ecosystem, the knowledge is far from complete. Only 11 species of Neuroptera from Andaman and Nicobar Islands and 2 species of Neuroptera from Laccadive Islands have so far been reported. A few species have so far been reported from Desert ecosystem. From the existing knowledge, it is too premature to attempt an estimation of species diversity.

Biological Diversity And Its Special Features

Larvae of Neuroptera occupy a wide range of habitat. Some are found only in sand or dust (Myrmeleontidae, Nemopteridae, Ascalaphidae), others arboreal (Chrysopidae, Hemerobiidae, Coniopterygidae) and several are aquatic or serniaquatic (Sialidae, Sisyridae, Osmylidae). Several families of Neuroptera are predacious in habit. The formation of pits by the larvae of antlions (Myrmeleontidae), utilisation of natural depressions for concealment by the larvae of owl flies (Ascalaphidae) or awaiting in the dust on the floor of neglected buildings (Nemopteridae) for predation on other insects are the interesting features of Neuroptera. Besides, some Neuroptera predate on insects of sedentary habits or mites (Chrysopidae, Hemerobiidae and Coniopterygidae). Spongilla flies (Sisyridae) suck the body fluid of sponges and mantispids (Mantispidae) are predacious on the egg sacs of spiders. Several kinds of strategies are used by neuropteran predators in finding and capturing prey

(i) Random searching: Predators may patrol leaves, stems, etc. and eat immature or adult insects (Chrysopidae, Coniopterygidae, Hemerobiidae). (ii) Trapping: By the formation of a pit, concealing in natural depression or dust as stated above, the predators wait for the prey.

(iii) Ambush : They simply wait for prey to reach within striking distance by the raptorial forelegs (Mantispidae of Neuroptera like Mantidae of Dictyoptera).

Distributional diversity

Some interesting observation may be made on the distribution of genera and species on world basis. In the family Coniopterygidae, the genus Semidalis Enderlein occurs in all continents except Australia, while Spi/oeonis Enderlein and Heteroeonis Enderlein are restricted in distribution to Asia. The genus Hemerobil/S Linn. of the family Hemerobiidae is represented in all major regions of the globe except Australia and Oceania but the genus Mieromlls Rambur has a world-wide distribution. In Chrysopidae, the genera Chrysopa Leach, Chnjsoperla Steinmann, Mallada Navas are distributed ahnost world-wide, while Ankylopteryx Brauer, Brinckoehrysa Tjeder are tropical genera of the old world and Stiqmaehrysa Navas and also Evanoehrysa Brooks and Barnard are restricted to Indo-Malayasia. Though the family Osmylidae is fOW1d in most continents but the genus Spi/osmyilis Kolbe is restricted in distribution to Oriental and Ethiopian regions and Hyposmyilis MacLachlan and Heterosmyilis Kruger are represented in Asian continent. The family Myrmeleontidae and Ascalaphidae are most abW1dant in tropical countries. In the family Ascalaphidae, Protidrieerus WeeIe, ldrieerus MacLachlan, Hybris Lefebvre and Aeheron Lefebvre are restricted to Asian continent as that of the genera Neonellromlls Weele, Protohermes Weele, Neoc/laliliodes Weele and Aeanthaeorydalis Weele of the family Corydalidae. Other interesting genus in the family Ascalaphidae is Glyptobasis MacLachlan which is restricted in distribution in Indian subcontinent. The genus Berotha Walker (Berothidae) is probably restricted to the Oriental region (Aspock, 1983) while the genus Acroberotha is Oriental and Ethiopian in distribution.

"A remarkable type of distribution is represented by Micromlls timidlls Hagen (Hemerobiidae). It ranges from Western Africa via Seychelles, India and the East Indies to Australia and Oceania and has the widest distribution among the intertropic Neuroptera" (Tjeder, 1966).


The approximate number of the endemic genera and species stands at 13 (10%) and 262 (78%) respectively. The endemicity can probably be explained by the richness of the flora including agri-horticultural plantations. Such richness of the flora eVidently invites a large number of insects and other organisms on which these neuropteran insects predate.

Threatened Species In India

The documented data on the threatened species of Neuroptera is not available. Quite a large number of species were not collected after their discovery. Faunistic surveys for the collection of Neuroptera and the taxonomic studies on the group are not satisfactory. Therefore it is difficult to provide any information of the threatened species of Neuroptera.


The neuropterans are valuable allies of man. The group includes quite a large number of species which are predacious on different insect pests in their larval and adult stages. These active predators destroy the agri¬horticultural pests like aphids, coccids (Hemiptera), thrips (Thysanoptera), moths (Lepidoptera), mites (Acarina), etc. They are thus agents of biological control of pests and may contribute savings in national economy by reducing the pest population if they are properly utilised.

Threats, Conservation And Future Studies

The occurrence of diverse ecosystems and habitats enriched species diversity in India. But due to habitat alteration, some of the species reported earlier are not found in recent samples. So, intensive surveys have to be undertaken to establish the fact that the species have either been threatened or extinct. Besides, the systematic studies of Neuroptera have not received much attention in India. Therefore, more efforts should be made to identify, inventorise and designate the status of the species. There is a need to gather biological and ecological information of the species to gain better understanding of the systematics. Such studies will provide the baseline data for a conservation strategy. As the neuropterans are entomophagous, the native home of the pests should be located and details of their biology should be studied. Biological control agents like Neuroptera cause no environmental pollution or generally harm to other organisms like insecticide control. On the other hand, they play vital role in reducing insect pest population affecting flora including agri-horticultural plantations and thereby indirectly contribute savings in the national economy. So, proper attention should be given to conserve and maximise by captive breeding these regulatory forces to reduce the pest population.

Selected References

Aspock,U. 1983. Das Genus BerotlUl Walker {Neuropteroidea : Planipennia Berothidae}. Ann. Naturlrist. Mus Wien., 84/B : 463•478. Linnaeus, C. V. 1758. systema Naturae I. Ed. 10, 824 pp. Laur. Salvii. Richards, O. W. & Davis, R. G. 1977. Imm's General text book of entomology, Ed. 10, 2 : 422•1354 (Neuroptera : 793-815). Tjeder, B. 1961. Neuroptera-Planipennia. The lacewings of Southern Africa. 4. Family Hemerobiidae. South African Animal Life, 8 : 296-408. Tjeder, B. 1966. Neuroptera-Planipennia. The laceWings of Southern Africa. 5. Family Chrysopidae. Ibid. 12: 282-534.


This is an extract from
Protozoa to Mammalia
State of the Art.
Zoological Survey of India, 1991.
By Professor Mohammad Shamim Jairajpuri
Director, Zoological Survey of India
and his team of devoted scientists.
The said book was an enlarged, updated version of
The State of Art Report: Zoology
Edited by Dr. T. N. Ananthakrishnan,
Director, Zoological Survey of India in 1980.

Note: This article is likely to have several spelling mistakes that occurred during scanning. If these errors are reported as messages to the Facebook page, your help will be gratefully acknowledged.


The Order Neuroptera erected by Linnaeus (1758) was then represented by a heterogeneous group compris~g Plecoptera, Isoptera, E.mbioptera, Corrodentia, Mallophaga, Mecoptera and Tricboptera besides true Neuroptera. The oldest fossil, described by Tillyard (1932) under the name Permoberotha vilosa (Family Permoberothidae), was discovered in the lower•Permian rocks of Kansas in America. After a study of Permian Neuroptera and Megaloptera, Tillyard came to the conclusion that the family Berothidae is the oldest amongst the existing families of Neuroptera (s. str.).

The neuropterans are valuable allies of man. The order includes quite a large number of species which are predacious in their larval and adult stages. The larvae of the species belonging to families Hemerobiidae, Chrysopidae and Coniopterygidae are predacious on the various stages of small Hemiptera, Thysanoptera, Psocoptera, small Lepidoptera, Coleoptera, mites etc. These active predators destroy the agri-horticultural pests like aphids, coccids, thrips, moths and mites and thus, are beneficial to mankind. So, some neuropterans are being used in biological control of insects. Though in India this type of work has not received much attention but, a number af species have been used in other counUies, e.g., Chrysopa carnea Stephens is successfully used in California in the control of J>ear-Orchid pest, Pseudococcus meritimus. U.S. Department of Agriculture introduced a Palaearctic stock of C. carnea ieto the United States for control of alfalfa aphids. Besides being predators, some of the specica; of the family Mantispidae parasitize the egg capsules ofspiders.


On the basis of morphological and biological features, subdivision of the order Neuroptera has been done by various authors. Imms (1925) and Tillyard (1926) considered two suborders, Megaloptera and Planipennia. Handlirsch (1925), Brues and Melander (1932) and Essig (1942) splitted Neuroptera into three orders, Megaloptera, Raphidoidea and Neuroptera (s. SIr.) (planipennia). Tjeder (1957) retained Megaloptera and Pl~ipennia as suborders. The order Neuroptera as conceived today consists of about twenty families, namely, Corydalidae, Sialidae, Raphididae, Inocellidae, Ithonidae•, Coniopterygidae, Dilaridae, Berothidae, Polystoechotidae* , Sisyridae, Hemerobiidae, Psychopsidae* t Osmylidae, Mantispidae, Chrysopidae, Myiodactylidae*, Nymphidae*, Nemopteridae, Ascalaphidae and Myrmeleontidae. Numerically, more than 5000 species are known from the whole world. However, some of the families (marked *) are not represented in India.

Historical Resume

i) Pre-1900

Westwood (1848) ~ade some contributions to the family Mantispidae and Ascalaphidae from India. Walker (1853) published a catalogue of the neuropterous insects in the collection of the British Museum, from which he described and refelTed to many species ofNeuroptera belonging to different'families from India. MacLachlan (1867) published. new genera and species of insects and revised Walker's British Museum catalogue as far as the end of the genus Myrmeleon. In this revisionary work specially ofthe fainily Myrrneleontidae he tried to disassociated several species described under the genus Myrmeleon and new genera were established for the concerned species.

MacLachlan (1869) worked on the genus Chauliodes and its allies with notes and descriptions and also gave description of some new species of the family Dilaridae and Osmylidae. His attempt to classify the family Ascalaphidae (1871) with generic descriptions as well as information on some of the Indian species is a valuable contribution.

ii) 1901-1947

This period may be regarded as the significant period in the history of Indian Neuropterology, as a large number of taxa were described during this period. At the Indian Museum, Calcutta, efforts were made to identify the collections lying in the Museum (Needham, 1909). Navas (1905¬1935) discovered quite a large number of new genera and species ~longing to different families. Banks (1910-1939) contributed a lot of information including the descriptions of new taxa of different families, namely, Coniopterygidae, Sisyridae, Chrysopidae, Mantispidae, Mynneleontidae and Ascalaphidae from India. Dover (1921) published an account of the neuropteran insects -of Barkuda Island. Fraser (1922) published on the Ascalaphidae in the collection of the Indian Museum. Withycombe (1925) contributed a monograph of Indian Coniopterygidae. Kimm~s (1935-1943) published significant account on some of the Indian genera and species of tile family Hemerobiidae and Osmylidae.

iii) 1948-1990

The period between 1943 to 1970 may be called as a -period of stagnation in the field of Research on Indian Neuroptera. During this period only a few species were dealt with, by the scientists working outside India in their revisionary works. In this con-text, Kimmins (1949 and 1955), Nakahara (1960-1963), Holzel (1971-72) and Meinander (1972) may be referred to. Ghosh (1968-1989) has published a number of papers on this subject, with descriptions of more than 20 new species and a new genus. Ghosh & Sen (1977) contributed a checklist of Indian Planipennia.

The specimens of Neuroptera collected from Himalayan ecosystem, Desert ecosystem, terrestrial ecosystem of Peninsular India and Insular ecosystem have been studied by Ghosh (1965 to date). Studies on the collections from Eastern India, i.e~ Bihar, West Bengal, Orissa, Assam, Meghalaya, Nagaland, Manipur, Arunachal Pradesh and Sikkim have -been undertaken and the accounts of the species belonging to the families Mynneleontidae (1984), Ascalaphidae (1988) have been published and a paper on Chrysopidae is in press. ¬

A check-list on Mynneleontidae from Orissa was published (Ghosh, 1987) and another on West Bengal is in press. The studies on the Neuroptera of northern peninsular and north-western Himalayan parts of India, including Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat, Maharashtra and Goa have been published (Ghosh, 1983), besides, that of Himachal Pradesh (i977), Rajasthan (1977), Andaman and Nicobar Islands (1980) and Laqcadive Island (1981).

There is a need to further explore neuropteran fauna from different States and Union Territories including the Insular regions of India.

Estimation of Taxa

From a total of about twenty families known from the world, thirteen families are represented in India. The National Collections of Zoological Survey of India comprise material of two families of Megaloptera and eleven families of Planipennia. A total of 315 species are known from India. This includes about 25 species of Megaloptera and about 290 species of Planipennia.

Expertise India


S. K. Ghosh, ZSI, M-Block, New Alipur, Calcutta 700 053.


H. Holzel, Annenheim 160, A 9520 Sattendorf, Austria. [Megaloptera &Chrysopidae]. H. Aspock, Hygien -Institut der Universitat, Kinderspitalgasse 15, A 1095, Wien, Austria. [Megaloptera &Planipennia]. Zeleny, Czechoslovakia Academy of Sciences, Department of Insect Toxicology, U Sala-mounky, 41, 15800 Praha 5, Czechoslovakia. [Chrysopidae]. L. A. Stange, Florida Department of Agriculture and consumer services, Division of Plant Industry, Doyle Conner Building, 1911, S.W. 34th Street, P.O ..Box 1269/Gainsville 32602 Florida, U.S.A. [Myrmeleontidae]. M. Meinander, Universitaties Zoologiska Museum Entomologiska Avdelningen, N. Jarnvagatan -13 SF. 00100, Helsingfors 10. [Coniopterygidae]. M. M. Principi, Instituto de Entomologia, Via Filippo RE 6, Univ. Boigna, 40126, Italy. [Chrysopidae]. P. A. Adams, Dept. of Biological Sciences, California State University, Fullerton, California-92634, U.S.A. [Myrmeleontidae, Chrysopidae]. T. R. New, Department of Zoology, La Trobe University, Bundoora, Victoria, Australia 3083. [Chrysopidae and Hemerobiidae]. V. J. Monserrat, Universidad De Alcala de Henares Facultad de Ciencia, Departmento De Biologia Animal, Alcala de Henares, Madrid, Spain. [Hemerobiidae].

Selected References

Ghosh, S. K. &Sen, S. 1977. Check-list of Indian Planipennia (Order Neuroptera). Rec. Zool. Surv. India. 73 : 277-326.

Ghosh, S. K. 1984. Contribution to the taxonomical studies of Neuroptera (Suborder Planipennia) from Eastern India. I. Family Myrmeleontidae. Rec. Zool. Surv. India. Occ. Pap., S2 : i-vi + 1-63, 66 figs. &2 pis. Killington, F. J. 1936. A monograph of British• Neuroptera. 1 : 269 pp.; 2 : 306 pp. Ray Society, London. Meinander, M. 1972.A revision of the family Coniopterygidae (planipennia). Acta Zool. Fennica, 136 : 1-357.

Tjeder, B. 1961. Neuroptera -Planij>ennia. The lace-wings of Southern Africa. 4. Family Hemerobiidae. South African Animal Life. 8 : 246-408. Tjeder, B. 1966. Neuroptera -Planipennia. The lace-wings of Southern Africa. 5. Family Chrysopidae. South African Animal Life. 12 : 228-534. Walker, F. 1853. Sialides -Nemopterides. Catalogue of the specimens of neuropterous insects in the collection of the British Museum. 2. B : 193-476. Van Der Weele, H. W. 1908. Ascalaphiden. Monographisch Bearbeitet. Cat. Coil. Selys, 3 : 1-326. Van Der Weele, H. W. 1910." Megaloptera (Latreille). Cat. Coil. Selys, 5 (1) : 1-93.

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