Owlfly: Quick Reference Guide to Fascinating Facts

folder_openInsecta, Neuroptera
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Owlfly insects are fascinating creatures that look like a combination of a dragonfly and a butterfly. They can be recognized by their dragonfly-shaped bodies and butterfly-like clubbed antennae. With large, bulging eyes and the ability to rest with their abdomens angled away from a perch, their unique appearance often resembles a twig. Some species even glue sand or debris on their backs for camouflage purposes, making them even harder to spot in their natural habitat.

Found in various parts of the world, owlfly larvae are known for their predatory habits, feeding on other insects such as aphids and caterpillars. Adult owlflies are also predators, using their keen vision to catch flying insects in mid-air. They are mostly nocturnal, which is why many people may not have encountered these fascinating creatures.

There are two genera of owlflies that can be distinguished by examining their eyes: those in the genus Ululodes have a groove or crease in each eye, while those in the genus Ascaloptynx do not. Learning about these remarkable insects surely adds a new dimension to understanding the incredible diversity of life in our world.

Owlfly Basics

Species and Classification

Owlfly belongs to the order Neuroptera, the family Ascalaphidae, and the subfamily Ascalaphinae. This group also includes insects like the antlions from the family Myrmeleontidae. There are two main genera of owlflies: Ascaloptynx and Ululodes. The species Ascaloptynx appendiculata is the only one in its genus in North America.

Physical Characteristics

Owlfly insects display some unique features, especially their clubbed antennae and bulging eyes. Their body size and attributes resemble those of dragonflies. Here are some of their key characteristics:

  • Arthropods with wings
  • Long, clubbed antennae
  • Large, bulging eyes

Ululodes and Ascaloptynx genera can be distinguished by examining their eyes: Ululodes have a groove or crease in each eye while Ascaloptynx lack this feature. An example of an owlfly’s unique morphology can be found in Ascaloptynx appendiculata, a species with distinct physical characteristics.

Comparison between Ululodes and Ascaloptynx

Feature Ululodes Ascaloptynx
Eyes Creased Smooth

Owlfly wings are covered with tiny scales, similar to those found in butterflies and moths. This attribute groups Owlfly within Lepidoptera order. In conclusion, owlflies are fascinating insects with unique physical characteristics, making them stand out within the diverse world of arthropods.

Life Cycle and Reproduction


Owlflies are fascinating insects, and their life cycle is unique. The larvae of an owlfly are somewhat similar to antlion larvae. They are predators, often hiding in leaf litter to ambush their prey. Some features of owlfly larvae include:

  • Elongated body
  • Large, powerful jaws
  • Camouflage for hiding


Female owlflies lay their eggs on twigs or other elevated surfaces to keep them safe from potential predators. Some interesting characteristics of owlfly eggs:

  • Small
  • Coated with a protective substance
  • Laid singly or in clusters

Pupa and Cocoon

The next stage in the owlfly’s life cycle is the pupa. Before pupating, the larva spins a silk cocoon to protect itself during its metamorphosis. Some notable features of the pupa and cocoon:

  • Pupa is well camouflaged
  • Cocoon is composed of silk and other materials
  • Metamorphosis occurs within the cocoon

In conclusion, the owlfly’s life cycle is an interesting process that includes distinct larvae, eggs, pupa, and cocoon stages. The adaptations and strategies employed throughout their development help ensure their survival and reproduction.

Behavior and Ecology

Feeding Habits

Owlfly adults feed on various small flying insects such as mosquitoes and moths. Their feeding habits include:

  • Ambush predation: They sit and wait for their prey on plants.
  • Nocturnal activity: They are more active at night, when other insects are also active.

For example, in Missouri, Owlfly adults commonly prey on mosquitoes during summer nights.

Camouflage and Predation

Owlfly larvae exhibit exceptional camouflage, blending seamlessly with their surroundings to avoid predators and catch their prey. Key features of their camouflage include:

  • Resemblance to twigs or tree bark
  • Body covered in debris or plant material

The owlfly’s camouflage helps protect it from predators like birds and other insects, while also allowing it to be an effective ambush predator.

Flight and Activity Patterns

Owlfly adults are crepuscular, meaning they are most active during twilight hours (dusk and dawn). Their flight patterns can be characterized by:

  • Short, rapid flights
  • Hovering to scan the environment

Owlfly adults tend to be more active during summers, particularly in regions like Missouri.

Owlfly Other Ambush Predators
Time Crepuscular Nocturnal/Day
Diet Flying Insects Various
Habitat Missouri, other regions Depends on species

To summarize, Owlfly behavior and ecology consists of efficient feeding habits, remarkable camouflage, and distinct flight patterns.

Habitat and Distribution

Geographical Range

Owlflies can be found in various parts of the world, including North America and Australia. These invertebrates belong to the family Ascalaphidae and have several species within the genus Ascaloptynx, such as A. appendiculata.

Habitat Types

  • Trees: Owlflies typically reside in trees, where they perch on branches and camouflage themselves as twigs.
  • Forest edges: They prefer habitats near forest edges where there are open areas for hunting.

In addition to trees, owlflies are known to occupy many different habitat types, such as grasslands, shrublands, and wetlands. They can adapt to various environments as long as they have access to suitable perching sites and a food supply consisting of smaller insect prey.

Interactions with Other Species

Predators and Prey Relationships

Owlflies are predators that primarily feed on various insects, like moths and lacewings. Birds, damselflies, and spiders are known to prey on owlflies themselves.

Owlflies as Predators

  • Feed on insects such as:
    • Moths
    • Lacewings
  • Crepuscular habits: active during dawn and dusk

Owlflies as Prey

  • Preyed upon by:
    • Birds
    • Damselflies
    • Spiders

Ecological Role

As neuropteran insects, owlflies play a significant role in controlling insect populations. They are fliers, hunting during dawn and dusk (crepuscular habits), making them efficient hunters.

New World vs. Old World Species

Feature New World Species Old World Species
Distribution Americas Europe, Asia, Africa
Predominant Prey Moths, Lacewings (examples) Moths, Lacewings (examples)
Example Species Albardia furcata (New World)

In conclusion, owlflies have various interactions with other species, both as predators and prey. Their ecological role is crucial to controlling insect populations, and their distribution varies between new and old world regions.

Interesting Facts and Trivia

Owlflies are fascinating insects that resemble a combination of dragonflies and butterflies. Their scientific name falls under the family Ithonidae, and they have a unique appearance with large, bulging eyes and long, clubbed antennae1.

  • History and Evolution: Owlflies have been around for a long time, being one of the oldest groups of winged insects. They show fascinating evolutionary features, such as their large eyes and membranous wings that help them adapt to diverse environments.
  • Diet: These insects are predators, feeding primarily on other small insects. Their caliper-like mandibles make it easy for them to catch and consume their prey.

Owlflies display an impressive array of physical features and behaviors:

  • Wingspan: Their wingspan usually ranges between 30-50mm, providing them with excellent flying capabilities.
  • Color: These insects commonly exhibit gray or black coloration that helps them blend in with their surroundings.
  • Pupation: During their pupal stage, owlflies attach themselves to the soil, hiding among detritus to avoid predators.

A comparison between owlflies and other insects is shown below:

Features Owlfly Dragonfly Butterfly Black insect
Wingspan 30-50 mm 50-100 mm 50-200 mm Varies
Diet Predatory Predatory Nectar Varies
Fringed or Oval Eyes Fringed Oval Oval Varies
Pupation Habitat Soil N/A Chrysalis Varies

Owlflies play an important role in maintaining the ecological balance by controlling insect populations. Websites like BugGuide offer resources to help identify and learn more about owlflies and other insects.


  1. Owlflies | Missouri Department of Conservation


  • 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.

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  • 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.

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