I have been trying to get a picture of one of these diminutive little specks of dust for quite some time. It’s not that they’re hard to find, it’s just that it’s hard to get a photo where you can tell this is something other than a little poof of dust!
This is a junkbug, aka trashbug, aka aphid lion, aka the larva of the green lacewing. I apologize that there’s no Latin name, but identifying the 22 green lacewing species of Florida is a pursuit best left to those with free time and powerful microscopes. This is a member of the family Chrysopidae and that’s about as narrowed-down as I can get without government funding.
Under that pile of “dirt”, the aphid lion is a voracious predator. You can actually see its pointy little jaws sticking out on the lower left of the trashball — and here’s where I get to point out that the ball is not actually made of trash, it is made of the bodies of the larva’s previous victims! The aphid lion glues bits of its kills to itself with silk spun like a spider from its abdomen — as camouflage from both predators and prey. The strange outline means it’s hard to identify as food from a distance, and the pervasive smell of its dead aphid prey masks the junkbug’s own smell, allowing it to enter the nests of ants which keep aphid colonies and, disguised as an aphid, wreak havoc among the ants’ aphid “crop”.
Because they are such voracious predators of pest species like aphids, scale insects, and whiteflies, green lacewing larvae are often used for biological pest control.
The junkbug below has chosen really bright green stuff in which to hide itself, turning it into a tiny walking shrubbery. (Ni!)
This is what a junkbug / aphid lion looks like without its coat of debris. Look at those jaws! Suddenly it’s very clear where its name comes from.