Golden Backed Snipe Fly: Essential Facts for Enthusiasts

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The Golden Backed Snipe Fly is a fascinating insect native to eastern North America. Often found resting on low vegetation in deciduous woodlands, these unique flies are known for their distinctive golden-colored thorax and white chevrons on their abdomen.

Appearing in late spring and early summer, these flies measure between 10-12 mm in length and can be observed mating during late May to early June. While Golden Backed Snipe Fly facts remain somewhat enigmatic, their striking appearance and presence in habitats around wetlands make them a captivating subject for those interested in the world of insects.

Golden Backed Snipe Fly Basics

Classification

The Golden-backed Snipe Fly (Chrysopilus thoracicus) belongs to the Kingdom: Animalia, Phylum: Arthropoda, Class: Insecta, Order: Diptera, Family: Rhagionidae, and Genus: Chrysopilus.

Insect Description

Golden-backed Snipe Flies have a unique appearance with distinct features:

  • Striking gold thorax
  • White chevrons on their abdomen
  • Black wings
  • No stinger

They are commonly found in the eastern regions of North America, particularly around wetlands and low-lying vegetation in deciduous woodlands.

Size and Colors

Adult Golden-backed Snipe Flies typically reach a size of 10-12 mm in length, making them a relatively small species within the insect world. Their most noticeable feature is the gold thorax, covered in highly reflective golden hairs, giving them their name.

These flies show off a stunning contrast of colors with their black bodies, wings, and white-chevron markings on their abdomen. Their visual appeal makes them easy to spot when perched on leaves of understory vegetation.

In summary, the Golden-backed Snipe Fly is an insect with striking features and a unique coloration that sets them apart from other flies. The Chrysopilus thoracicus, found throughout eastern North America, is a fascinating species for insect enthusiasts and casual observers alike.

Distribution and Habitat

Geographical Range

Golden-backed snipe flies (Chrysopilus thoracicus) are prevalent throughout Eastern North America. Their range extends from the southern parts of Canada to the Eastern United States and even reaches Mexico ^(1^).

Preferred Environment

These arthropods, belonging to the hexapod group, inhabit deciduous woodlands where they rest on low vegetation. Golden-backed snipe flies are typically found close to the ground, often no higher than two feet off the ground ^(2^).

These snipe flies mainly appear in late spring and early summer, and their mating season occurs around late May and early June. However, the exact timing may vary depending on their location within their geographical range ^(3^).


Comparison of Eastern North America Snipe Flies Habitats

Habitat Golden-backed Snipe Fly Other Snipe Flies
Deciduous Woodlands Yes ?
Coniferous Forests No ?
Grasslands No ?
Wetlands Possible ?

Please note that the data for other snipe flies’ habitat preferences is not available.

Physical Features and Identification

Wings and Thorax

The Golden Backed Snipe Fly, also known as Chrysopilus thoracicus, is a species of tabanomorpha flies. They have unique features that help in their identification:

  • Striking gold thorax
  • White chevrons on their wings
  • Wingspan of 10-12 mm

These flies can be found in areas with tall grasses, sedges, and thickets around wetlands, often resting on low vegetation in deciduous woodlands1.

Eyes and Abdomen

Golden Backed Snipe Flies have distinguishing eye and abdomen features:

  • Large and dark-colored compound eyes
  • Males have larger eyes than females
  • Abdomen with white chevron pattern

These characteristics make it easier to differentiate them from bees or wasps.

Legs and Mouthparts

Golden Backed Snipe Flies exhibit unique leg and mouthpart features:

  • Slender and long legs
  • Leg segments exhibit contrasting colors
  • Mouthparts designed for predation on other insects

With these identifiable features, you can observe Golden Backed Snipe Flies and appreciate their unique appearance.

Feature Golden Backed Snipe Fly Bee Wasp
Wings White chevrons Transparent Transparent
Thorax Gold Furry Smooth
Compound eyes Large and dark Smaller Smaller
Abdomen pattern White chevrons Stripes Stripes
Legs Long and slender Shorter Shorter
Mouthparts Predatory N/A N/A

Life Cycle and Behavior

Reproduction

Golden-backed snipe flies have a breeding season in the late spring and early summer. During this time, males and females mate, with observations often occurring in late May and early June.

Larval Stage

  • Females lay eggs in moist soil or rotting wood.
  • Larvae are decomposers, feeding on decaying organic matter.

The larvae of the golden-backed snipe fly live in environments with moist soil or rotting wood. They play an essential role as decomposers, breaking down organic matter in their surroundings.

Adult Stage

  • Adults are predators, feeding on other insects.
  • They have a smoky appearance and golden thorax.
  • They are commonly found in deciduous woodlands, often at low heights.

Adult golden-backed snipe flies have a striking appearance, exhibiting a smoky look and golden thorax. This insect is considered a predator, hunting other insects for sustenance. You can typically find them in areas with deciduous woodlands, often resting on low vegetation.

Comparing Larval and Adult Stages

  Larval Stage Adult Stage
Diet Decomposing organic matter Predatory (other insects)
Habitat Moist soil or rotting wood Deciduous woodlands
Role in Environment Decomposers Predators

Keep in mind that although it’s well known the adult stage is predatory, the snipe fly’s biting behavior is not confirmed.

Diet and Predatory Nature

Feeding Habits

The Golden Backed Snipe Fly (Chrysopilus thoracicus) belongs to the Family Rhagionidae, which includes various predatory species. These insects have specialized mouthparts adapted for hunting and consuming soft-bodied prey.

In the natural world, Golden Backed Snipe Flies are known to feed on a variety of small organisms. They have been observed consuming nectar, indicating that they partake in a balanced diet that includes both plant and animal matter.

Prey

Golden Backed Snipe Flies are, in some ways, similar to avian snipe as they prey on a range of soft-bodied insects, such as:

  • Aphids
  • Small caterpillars
  • Mosquitoes

Hunting Techniques

These striking insects possess a unique gold thorax and can be seen resting on low vegetation in deciduous woodlands, typically no higher than two feet off the ground. They use this vantage point to actively hunt for unsuspecting prey, blending in with the foliage to avoid detection.

Here is a comparison of their hunting techniques with similar insects:

Species Hunting Technique Natural Habitat
Golden Backed Snipe Fly Stays low in vegetation, ambushes prey Deciduous woodlands
Aquatic Snipe Patrols water bodies, captures aquatic insects Wetlands
Robber Fly Perches overlooking open areas, captures prey midair Sunny, open areas

With their effective predatory nature and ability to blend in with their surroundings, Golden Backed Snipe Flies are fascinating subjects in the study of insect behavior in the Orthorrhapha order.

Footnotes

  1. Golden-backed Snipe Fly

Reader Emails

Over the years, our website, whatsthatbug.com has received hundreds of letters and some interesting images asking us about these insects. Scroll down to have a look at some of them.

Letter 1 – Golden Backed Snipe Fly

 

Yellow spotted fly
Location: Biggsville, Il.
June 9, 2011 10:06 am
Yesterday I saw what I believe to be a fly in the shade garden. It had one bright yellow spot on it.
Signature: Randy

 

Hi Randy,
Each June we get several identification requests for Golden Backed Snipe Flies from the northern states in the midwest.

Letter 2 – Mating Golden Backed Snipe Flies

 

Subject: Mystery Bug
Location: Troy, Michigan USA
June 2, 2016 6:27 am
Saw one yesterday 2016 June 1 in the backyard where I have tomato plants, cucumbers, green beans, zucchini, squash, peach tree, apple tree, rose bush, hubbard squash, buttercup squash, parlsey, leek, chives, sun chokes, marigolds, hostas, pink coral bells, petunias, dianthus and other stuff growing. Saw one around 7am today June 2 on the rose bush in front. Then saw 2 more mating on the concrete in front about 1.5-2 hours later. I want to know the common and scientific name if you can tell me so I can research if it bites or is a pest to my flowers, fruits and veggies. It is summer here in Michigan. I live north of Detroit in southern Oakland County Michigan in a residential area in the suburbs.
Signature: Curious

 

Dear Curious,
These are mating Golden Backed Snipe Flies,
Chrysopilus thoracicus, and according to BugGuide:  “Life Cycle Details unknown. This fly is observed in early to mid-spring perched quietly on low vegetation in deciduous woodlands.”  Of the family Rhagiionidae, BugGuide notes:  “Both adults and larvae are predaceous on a variety of small insects. Most do not bite, but Symphoromyia females [known as Rocky Mountain Bite Flies] are common biting pests in the western mountains and coastal areas.”  So, this is either a beneficial insect, or a benign insect that will not harm the numerous plants in your garden.

Golden Backed Snipe Fly
Golden Backed Snipe Fly

 

Letter 3 – Golden Backed Snipe Fly

 

Subject: what is this???
Location: West Virginia
June 9, 2015 4:14 am
Heard and saw this on my back porch last night about 3 am. Thought it was a beetle before it landed. I thought it might be a horsey of some kind but ill let you be the judge of that.
Signature: Ed

 

Dear Ed,
Each year in June, we get several images of Golden Backed Snipe Flies, and most come from Ohio and Pennsylvania, across the border from you.

Letter 4 – Golden Backed Snipe Fly

 

Gold Dot Black Fly
May 19, 2010
Gold Dot Black Fly
Found several of these on a deck. Early Morning in East Tn, Oak Ridge. May 19, 2010. What are they?
Curious in O R
Oak Ridge Tn

 

Dear Curious,
This distinctive fly is a Golden Backed Snipe Fly, Chrysopilus thoracicus, and it ranges throughout the eastern portions of North America.  According to BugGuide, the details of its life cycle are:  “unknown. This fly is observed in early to mid-spring perched quietly on low vegetation in deciduous woodlands.

Letter 5 – BUG OF THE MONTH JUNE 2009: Golden Backed Snipe Flies Mating

 

Another Pair of Golden Backed Snipe Flies Mating
Golden Backed Snipe Flies Mating
Tue, Jun 9, 2009 at 5:16 PM
Leaving the house today, these two bugs were on my porch cushion. They were there for almost 1/2hour. They even gave me time to go get my camera , focus a few shots and get this great one! I emailed the pics to a friend as the “gold button” on the flies is truly a gold color- unlike the yellow color that comes off in the picture. The gold is what really attracted me to examine them closely. So, this evening, further intrigued, I hit the internet only to find your site within seconds, identifying the flies with ease, yelling to my husband, “THEY ARE GOLDEN BACKED SNIPE FLIES!!!” Gotta love the web!
A. Shafer
ExtremeNW NJ

 

Dear A.,
Thanks for sending in your photo of Golden Backed Snipe Flies mating. We will be adding your letter to the Bug of the Month posting since your photo is so much sharper than the original one we posted.

Golden Backed Snipe Flies Mating
Fri, May 29, 2009 at 5:33 AM
Good morning.
As I was walking from my car about 8am this morning, I chanced upon two bugs mating in the parking lot. They would hop a few feet away each time I got close but firmly refused to go get a room.
Thanks to your site, I was able to learn that the romantic couple is a pair of Golden Backed Snipe Flies. The gold on their backs is quite attractive!
Sorry for the quality of the photo. All I had was my cell phone.
Thank you for this site. It is great when we have a Cool Bug Alert and need to identify what the cool bug is. (In our family, we yell “Cool Bug Alert” and all come running to look. We then look up the bug and learn about them.)
Steph S.
Fairfax, VA

Golden Backed Snipe Flies Mating
Golden Backed Snipe Flies Mating

Dear Steph,
Thanks so much for your kind letter. We would love to hear that more people are using the Cool Bug Alert, since most alerts tend to have such a negative connotation in our modern world that is so full of the threat of terrorist attacks, abductions and contagious diseases. We are also quite happy to post your image of mating Golden Backed Snipe Flies. Since June is upon us, and it will be time to select a new Bug of the Month, we would like to select the Golden Backed Snipe Fly, Chrysopilus thoracicus, for the honor. According to BugGuide, the season for sightings is spring, more specifically “Spring. April-May (North Carolina)” though all of the submissions to our site have been from late May through June in more Northern locations. The May/June sighting calendar is also supported on BugGuide’s Data Page. We witnessed our own first sighting several years ago in Mill Creek Park in Youngstown Ohio in early June. BugGuide also indicates: “Life Cycle Details unknown. This fly is observed in early to mid-spring perched quietly on low vegetation in deciduous woodlands. “

Letter 6 – Golden Backed Snipe Flies Mating

 

Fly-like insect with black lacy wings&gold head or throat
Location: western Pennsylvania (Armstrong County)
May 29, 2011 11:41 pm
I have a photo of 2 insects copulating (at least ( believe that’s what they were doing) in the grass at Crooked Creek Lake/Dam/Park in Armstrong County in western Pennsylvania. I cannot find them in 2 insect books I have and have posted the photo on an About.com Insect forum. I have watched dragonflies and damselflies, and other insects while birding but have never seen this particular insect.
Signature: Thanks from a birder/nature lover

 

Dear birder/nature lover,
Despite the blurriness of your image, these are unmistakably Golden Backed Snipe Flies,
Chrysopilus thoracicus, and they are in fact “In Flagrante Delicto”.  They were our Bug of the Month in June 2009.  They fly in late spring.

Thank you, thank you, Daniel (Bugman extraordinaire).  I have become almost as interested in insects as I was in birds and critters.  I appreciate your ability to identify the flies in my poor “but idable” photo.  I have photos of other insects I was able to id such as the 6-spotted Tiger Beetle some people misrepresent as the deadly Ash Borer and once while birding up near Punxatawney, PA on the Shadow Mahoning Trail a few of us were awed while watching a Giant Ichneumon Wasp fly around us (looking for a log to lay her eggs on no doubt) and none of us had a camera!!!
Marge from Armstrong County, Pa’

Letter 7 – Golden Backed Snipe Fly

 

Golden Backed Snipe Flies
These were so pretty. I took their pictures in June 2005. Their abdomens were black and white striped, with a golden velvet on their thorax. I believe they are Golden Backed Snipe Flies. I apologize for the poor image quality. I sent an email to the Purdue Entomology department last summer, but no one ever responded, so I’ve been wondering ever since then. My husband found your great web site because we were trying to identify a new bug to us… the huge robber fly. I wish I had pictures of them. I know you say it’s only 3-4 cm, but I swear those things are bigger than that! At any rate, while on your site, I thought what a great place to figure out my Black and Yellow flies as I was calling them. I guess I wasn’t that far off in my made up nomenclature! Thanks for a great site! It’s awesome!
Amy Jost
Cincinnati, OH

 

Hi Amy,
These are Golden Backed Snipe Flies, and even though the image is a bit blurry, we are happy to have the mating couple for our Bug Love page.

Letter 8 – Golden Backed Snipe Fly

 

Summer Solstice (06/21/2006) What’s this bug?
Bug Man,
Can you identify this fly? I can’t help much as this is the only time I have ever seen it. I can tell you that it was seen near a drainage culvert that runs along side a soybean farm near Flint Michigan. June 12 2006 was the date I photographed it. As you can see in the photos it has a gold spot on top and four white stripes on each side of its abdomen. at the base of its antenna it looked like 3 little balls stacked one on top of the other. Its not much to go on but I hope that helped some. I’m real curious to hear what you have to say.
Thanks
Craig Putnam

 

Hi Craig,
Yours is the third image of a Golden Backed Snipe Fly, Chrysopilus thoracicus, that we received this June.

Letter 9 – Golden Backed Snipe Fly

 

Fly – Burlington Ontario
This fly looks a lot like the love bugs from Florida (except for the color on the thorax). I have never seen anything like this before and am hoping you can identify it for me.Many thanks,
Janet Nelson
Burlinton, Canada

 

Hi Janet,
This is a new species for our site, a Golden Backed Snipe Fly, Chrysopilus thoracicus. I just saw one while on holiday in Mill Creek Park in Youngstown, Ohio.

Letter 10 – Golden Backed Snipe Fly

 

I took a picture of this bug in June 2006, I’ve looked and looked but still can’t find what it could be. I live in NW Indiana, which is also where I seen this. I thought it was beautiful but could you help me?
Jessica

 

Hi Jessica,
This is a Golden Backed Snipe Fly, Chrysopilus thoracicus, and we get most of our photos of this species from the midwest in mid June.

Letter 11 – Golden Backed Snipe Fly

 

Golden-back Snipe Fly
I saw this fly earlier today. I live in southern Maryland. I only learned the name after searching your site. I thought you might like to add it to your collection. I should put your site as a shortcut on my toolbar because it seems like I go there so often looking for the name of some insect I have never seen before. Its a great site…
Mike Roane

 

Hi Mike,
We are thrilled to add your Golden Backed Snipe Fly to our archive.

Letter 12 – Golden Backed Snipe Fly

 

Horse Fly-esque?
May 30, 2010
I saw this thing back in our woods this morning crawling in the dirt. I went back in the afternoon with a camera and saw it siiting on this leaf. Got one photo before it flew. Searched and liken it to a horsefly, but have not seen any photos with the same color patterns. So, horse fly?
Tym!
NE Ohio

Golden Backed Snipe FlyHi Tym,
This is a beautiful image of a Golden Backed Snipe Fly.

Letter 13 – Golden Backed Snipe Fly

 

Is this a horse Fly?
Location: Roxboro, NC
May 16, 2011 2:09 pm
This bug was flittering with some northern cloudywing butterflys. they were chasing it away from the flowers. I thought it was a small butterfly but looking at the pictures later I decided it might be a Hoarse Fly but can’t find one with the bright yellow eyes. I live in Northern North Carolina. It was sighted on May 16 in the morning in my rural flower garden near a stream, woods and a meadow.
Signature: Thanks, J Armacost

 

Dear J,
This is a Golden Backed Snipe Fly,
Chrysopilus thoracicus, and each spring, we receive several new images for our archive.  According to BugGuide:  “Adults are alleged to be predatory on other insects, but they may feed little (observations by BugGuide members).”  Additionally, bugGuide indicates that the details of the life cycle are unknown.

Letter 14 – Golden Backed Snipe Fly

 

Subject: ID bug please
Location: Ohio, USA
June 13, 2016 1:05 pm
Here’s an interesting bug I found around home in northeast Ohio. It was a cool day, so he wasn’t moving very fast. Any thoughts?
Signature: htvmm

Dear htvmm,
This is a beautiful image of a Golden Backed Snipe Fly.

Letter 15 – Golden Backed Snipe Fly

 

Subject:  WTB?
Geographic location of the bug:  Maryland
Date: 05/30/2018
Time: 06:40 PM EDT
Your letter to the bugman:  Never seen one of these before. Would love to know what it is.
How you want your letter signed:  N.M.

 

Dear N.M.,
This is a Golden Backed Snipe Fly and according to BugGuide:  “This fly is observed in early to mid-spring perched quietly on low vegetation in deciduous woodlands.”  We are postdating your submission to go live to our site during the middle of June when our editorial staff is away from the office on holiday.

Letter 16 – Golden Backed Snipe Fly

 

Subject:  Can’t identify this bug
Geographic location of the bug:  Shanksville, Pennsylvania
Date: 06/12/2018
Time: 06:59 PM EDT
Your letter to the bugman:  Googled and can’t find anything
How you want your letter signed:  Kathy Laughlin

 

Dear Kathy,
It seems we get at least one or two identification requests for Golden Backed Snipe Flies from the Ohio/Pennsylvania area each year.

Letter 17 – Mating Golden Backed Snipe Flies

 

Bug Love Photos
Why Don’t We Do It In The Road? I saw these cute little buggers by our office around 7 a.m. one morning, (Pearl River, NY, right on the NY-NY line about 6 miles west of the Hudson River). I thought they were some kind of fly until l saw the photos of the clearwing moths. However these guys are smaller – maybe 5/8” wingspan. I read on one of the linked bug sites there is a smaller species of clearwings that resemble bumblebees (but no photo). Maybe that’s these guys. Their head and body structure still looks awfully fly-like to me though. Love your site! Nice to know there are other bug-lovers out. What beautiful photos. What beautiful lil’ critters. Best Regards,
Jeanne Guderian

Hi Jeanne,
You are right about them being flies. These are mating Golden Backed Snipe Flies. Your wonderful photo shows the wing veination quite nicely.

Letter 18 – Mating Golden Backed Snipe Flies

 

sackens bee robber?
May 23, 2010
around beehives, 5/8th of an inch
Andrea
southern ohio

 

Dear Andrea,
This is a gorgeous photo of mating Golden Backed Snipe Flies, Chrysopilus thoracicus.

Golden Backed Snipe Flies were not in my Field Guide of Insects & Spiders , Closest picture I found was of the Sacken’s Bee Hunter.
This morning there were probably 30 flying about, I was hoping they were not honey bee predators since they were all in the general area of a hive & I have never noticed this insect before the hive was installed
I can research now that I know what they are
Thanks!
Andrea

Letter 19 – Mating Golden Backed Snipe Flies

 

Subject: Unknown PA flies
Location: Pittsburgh, PA
May 28, 2012 8:51 am
So there are these flies in the back yard and we can’t figure out what they are. They look a bit like deer flies, but have this really bright yellow gold furry thorax. Then we found two engaged in — um — adult activities and it looks like the males and females have different coloring. They are about 3/4 inch long. Any idea what kind of flies these are? Thanks!
Signature: Jeff

 

Hi Jeff,
Your photograph is of mating Golden Backed Snipe Flies,
Chrysopilus thoracicus, and each spring we get a few identification requests and they are often of mating pairs.  According to BugGuide:  “Life Cycle Details unknown. This fly is observed in early to mid-spring perched quietly on low vegetation in deciduous woodlands.”

Letter 20 – Mating Golden Backed Snipe Flies

 

Subject:  What’s that bug?
Geographic location of the bug:  Cabot, Pa
Date: 06/17/2018
Time: 09:05 AM EDT
Your letter to the bugman:  Seen these two “mating”?
No one in the northern part of Pennsylvania seems to know what these their bugs are?
How you want your letter signed:  Marianne Barnhart

 

Dear Marianne,
Many of the images of Golden Backed Snipe Flies submitted to our site come from Pennsylvania and Ohio, and many of the images we receive of Golden Backed Snipe Flies are of mating pairs.

Letter 21 – Mating Golden Backed Snipe Flies

 

Subject:  insect with bright orange thorax
Geographic location of the bug:  Greene County, Ohio
Date: 06/03/2021
Time: 01:05 PM EDT
Your letter to the bugman:  I discovered these insects today (June 3rd) in mowed, white clover in my yard.
How you want your letter signed :  Curious Tom

 

Dear Curious Tom,
We are so happy your mowing did not interrupt the amorous activity of these mating Golden Backed Snipe Flies.  We get several identification requests for Golden Backed Snipe Flies in June from Ohio and Pennsylvania.

Authors

  • Bugman

    Bugman aka Daniel Marlos has been identifying bugs since 1999. whatsthatbug.com is his passion project and it has helped millions of readers identify the bug that has been bugging them for over two decades. You can reach out to him through our Contact Page.

    View all posts
  • Piyushi Dhir

    Piyushi is a nature lover, blogger and traveler at heart. She lives in beautiful Canada with her family. Piyushi is an animal lover and loves to write about all creatures.

    View all posts
Tags: Golden Backed Snipe Fly

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3 Comments. Leave new

  • I have seen these around our house and in the woods. They do not appear aggressive and move along if you get to close. I have yet to get a picture of them because they seem shy. We live in the northern Kentucky area.

    Reply
  • Greg Krogman
    June 5, 2021 6:12 am

    I got a shot of one here on western edge of Illinois! Could their range be farther west than what is thought?

    Reply

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