It’s a snake, it’s a fly, it’s a snakefly!

Hello again readers! After my Point Pelee adventures, I have now returned to the quieter lab life, processing and sorting insects from private parks and conservation areas around Canada.  So far, I have been processing a lot of different insects from ecological reserves and conservation areas in British Columbia. BC has different climates and habitats than Ontario, and there are some insects that you can find in BC, but you wouldn’t be able to find here. One example of this is the snakefly (Order Raphidioptera), which can be found in places like Alberta and BC.  

Snakeflies are related to, and bear a resemblance to lacewings (Neuropterans), but they have a much longer prothorax, making them look like they have a very long neck. This is where they get their name, since their ‘neck’ gives them the appearance of a snake about to strike when they lift their head.

Raphidiopteran, or snakefly, from Western Alberta. This one is from the Raphidiidae family
Raphidiopteran, or snakefly, from Western Alberta. This one is from the Raphidiidae family

Snakeflies do not sting, or bite humans, so they are completely harmless! You’ll find them living in arboreal habitats, or in scrubland.  They can be important predators of aphids, wood boring insects, and pests that threaten orchards. When the females lay their eggs, they must deposit them with their ovipositor into tree bark or dirt. The eggs develop into terrestrial larvae, then pupa, then adults. Snakeflies stay in their larval form for about a year before they hatch, and the larvae can run both forwards and backwards. Watch a snakefly larvae running forwards and backwards here.

Female snakefly, showing the ovipositor (not a sting!)
Female snakefly, showing the ovipositor (not a sting!)

Snakefly pupa are actually able to move, and can change locations before they fully form into an adult, which takes around 2 years. Like many insects that go through stages of development, the snakefly does not live long as an adult. They are not strong fliers, and are focused as an adult on predating enough insects to reproduce before they die.

Snakefly pupa, next to the molt of its previous larvae stage. https://goo.gl/dKV63P
Snakefly pupa, next to the molt of its previous larvae stage. https://goo.gl/dKV63P

Snakeflies are pretty neat insects that have been around for a VERY long time, as far back as the Cretaceous period. There have been many snakefly species discovered as fossils or in amber.  Modern snakeflies have not deviated much from their prehistoric existence, so they are often described as living fossils. If you’re ever in western Canada, try and spot one of these critters!

Thanks for reading!

-Jesse

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