Owlfly: All You Need to Know – Quick Guide to Fascinating Facts

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

Larvae

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

Eggs

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.

Footnotes

  1. Owlflies | Missouri Department of Conservation

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 – Owlfly from South Africa

 

Subject: Identifying a “stick” insect
Location: Eastern Cape, South Africa
December 30, 2014 6:33 am
Hi
I recently found this insect in my garden and would love to identify it.
Latitude : -33.092624 | Longitude : 27.78924
2014/12/27 1:52 PM
Thank you!
Signature: Waldo

Owlfly
Owlfly

Hi Waldo,
This is not a Stick Insect, but rather, an Owlfly in the family Ascalaphidae.  We browsed iSpot and found this very similar looking individual that is only identified to the family level.

Hi Daniel
Thank you so much for taking the time to respond to my request.
Regards
Waldo

Letter 2 – Owlfly

 

Moth? Dragonfly?
Location:  West Texas
August 31, 2010 1:38 am
I have seen a few of these guys this summer. It has long antenna with small bulbs (?) on the end. It is fuzzy like a moth, but has 2 sets of clear wings like a dragonfly. I have seen it in the month of August only so far. What in the world is it?
Keisha

Owlfly

Hi Keisha,
This unusual insect is an Owlfly, one of the Neuropterans in the same insect order as the Lacewings, Antlions and Mantisflies.

Thank you so very much for the rapid response. I spent hours on google and got nowhere.. Thanks again.

Letter 3 – Four Spotted Owlfly

 

Unidentified Insect
Location: New Iberia, la 70560
July 17, 2011 4:02 pm
Hello,
I am usually good at this but this one has me. Can you help identify this one?
Signature: To Parker & Breckin

Four Spotted Owlfly

Dear Parker & Breckin,
This is a Four Spotted Owlfly,
Ululodes quadripunctatus, and you can verify that identification on BugGuide.  Owlflies are in the insect order Neuroptera, and they are related to Antlions and Lacewings.  They are an unusual group of insects that can be difficult to classify.

Daniel,
thanks a bunch, I will pass on to my Grandsons…
they are 7-1/2 and 4 and are bug lovers.
Frank

Letter 4 – Four Spotted Owlfly

 

Subject: My 1st time seeing this… What is it?
Location: Jones, Oklahoma
July 30, 2013 4:18 pm
I found this insect Saturday, July 27 2013.
Near Jones Oklahoma.
It was found at on of the lights at my church at about 9:00pm.
The church is out in the country not the city.
There is a medium size pond on the property as well as a river about mile away.
At first I thought it was a really big Antlion adult, until I seen the ”long butterfly like” antenna.
It has some distinct markings on its long abdomen.
Body is 1 1/8 inch long from tip of head to tip of tail.
Antenna are 1 inch long from head to tip of the knobs.
It also has layed 3 small clusters of eggs in it’s container.
I tried to get all the above details in the pictures
If you can shed some light on this little mystery of mine, I would greatly appreciate it.
Signature: Skeeterbite

Owlfly
Four Spotted Owlfly

Dear Skeeterbite,
Your description is so thorough we could have made this identification without a photograph.  You are astute to recognize that this Owlfly in the family Ascalaphidae is like a large Antlion since they are in the same insect order, Neuroptera.
  We believe this is a Four Spotted Owlfly, Ululodes quadripunctatus, based on this photo posted to BugGuide.

Four Spotted Owlfly
Four Spotted Owlfly

Letter 5 – Owlflies from Ecuador

 

Need ID for Neo tropical Conservation Project
Mon, Jun 1, 2009 at 6:18 AM
Dear Daniel,
Sorry about the misunderstood, I didn’t mean to say any thing bad about your students or about the way you judge them. I was actually trying to be funny but it didn’t work obviously. I have a strange kind of humour, maybe cause I m french, but well nobody’s perfect!
I am currently in Louisiana were they also are having a hard time conserving the coast line and the beautiful swamps…the problem is everywhere I m afraid.
I will be back in Ecuador next friday though.
I would like to ask you a favor: I have been having the photos I am attaching on my computer for a while and I don’t know how to classify the critters… Do you have any idea if these are hymenopteran, megalopterans, or some kind of hemipteran nymphs?
Sorry this is one of the first time I find myself so stranded with a species. I don’t have a scientific background at all, I m just learning as I go.
Thanks in advance.
Thierry
ecuador eastern slopes

Owlfly
Owlfly

Hi Again Thierry,
We are very happy that we can assist you with this difficult identification. We would wager money that these are Owlflies, members of the order Neuroptera, which includes Lacewings and Antlions, and the family Ascalaphidae. We haven’t a clue as to the genus or species. Here is what BugGuide uses as identification markers for Owlflies: “Bizarre creatures that look like a cross between a dragonfly and a butterfly. The body resembles that of other neuropterans, more-or-less, but the prominent antennae are clubbed like those of butterflies. Key characters:
Medium to large size
Clubbed antennae
Eyes large and bulge out from head
may rest in cryptic posture with abdomen projecting from perch, resembling a twig”. The social behavior is a bit unusual in our mind, but they may be feeding on some plant eating insect.

Owlfly Aggregation
Owlfly Aggregation

Thank you so much Daniel for your help. Actually after I sent you the message I scrolled down you re web page and realized that some one had sent you a picture of an owlfly and imagined we could be dealing with one of them guys. Touche!
I’ m glad I learnt something as I didn’t suspect the existence of such creatures.
Good luck with everything. we’ll be in touch.

Letter 6 – Owlfly

 

Butterfly-Dragonfly Hybrid? Is it possible? What is this?
Here’s one for ya….This morning I went outside and found the most interesting creature. At first I thought it was a dragonfly, because of four transparent wings-shaped like a dragonfly and buzz quickly like a dragonfly. But the insect has antenae like a butterfly. The legs are short like a dragonfly. The abdomen is narrow. I have never seen any thing like it! Could this be some crazy hybrid? Who can I contact? If anyone knows, let me know!!! I picked it up and put it in a jar with a tuille on top so it can breathe. It does not have any dust stuff on it like a butterfly and it did not hurt it. I need answers quick. Let me know…. Sorry my pictures are not that good. He looks much cooler in person…
Thanks~
Sherry

Hi Sherry,
Even with your blurry photos, we can tell this is an Owlfly, one of the Neuropterans in the family Ascalaphidae.

Letter 7 – Owlfly

 

Snakefly, lacewing or…?
Hi, Bugman,
Your site is really helping me get over my bug-fears. Also, thanks for responding to our question about what turned out to be a Vine Sphinx moth about a month ago! This morning, at my home outside of Austin TX, I found this guy hanging out on a bit of chicken wire fencing. Two things struck me as unusual enough to take a photo: the length of the antennae and the way the back end was held up almost perpendicular to the head sections. Since the fencing has appx 1" holes you can see that the body and antennae are almost the same length, about just under one inch each. The body color was shades of brown and gray and the wings were clear.
No rush on the reply, we know how life tends to interfere with the things we’d rather be doing!! Thanks in advance for your help!
Karen & TJ Lamphier

Hi Karen and TJ,
Though this isn’t a snakefly or a lacewing, you did have the correct order: Neuroptera, the Nerve Winged Insects. Owlflies are in the family Ascalaphidae, and your species is most likely in the genus Ululodes.

Letter 8 – Owlfly

 

Is it butterfly, earwig, moth or dragonfly?
Photographed last week in Southern Italy. We’re all stumped. Can you help please?
Andrew

Hi Andrew,
As always, when we are puzzled, we turn to the guy who knows, Eric Eaton. Here is his identification: “Gorgeous photo of an owlfly in the family Ascalaphidae, order Neuroptera. I don’t have a field guide to European insects, but there are lots of images of this species available in books and online. Owlflies are predatory both as fast-flying adults, and as truly ugly larvae (which resemble flattened versions of antlion larvae). Neat insects. Eric”

Thanks. That’s a relief as aeveryone thought I’d created it in Adobe!

Letter 9 – Owlfly

 

unidentified bugs
Hi,
These are some bugs I found at my aunt’s house in central Oklahoma. I hope all the pics get through. The first three pics are of a strange flying insect I have never seen before. It is about an inch and a half long, with slightly longer wings. It has the wings and jaws of a dragonfly, but the furry body and antennae of a butterfly. This strange little guy holds his wings kind of like a dobsonfly. … I love your site, and it has been a great help in identifying some of my mystery bugs. Thanks for all you do,
Josh.

Hi Josh,
Your mystery insect is an Owlfly in the family Ascalaphidae. Owlflies are Neuropterans, so your comparison to a Dobsonfly makes sense. Your one photo shows a grooved eye which indicates the genus Ululodes.

Letter 10 – Owlfly

 

Butterfly?
Hi,
I spotted this butterfly (?) in the south of France by a swimmingpool. Any idee? Many regards,
Wouter Schutters

Hi Wouter,
It is quite understandable that you would mistake this Owlfly for a butterfly. Owlflies are members of the order Neuroptera, the Nerve-Winged Insects.

Letter 11 – Owlfly

 

Clearwing Moth?
Tue, Feb 17, 2009 at 12:17 PM
This insect was photographed in a longleaf pine forest in late September in SW Georgia. The head and antennae remind me of a moth or butterfly but the wings suggest otherwise. Could you please provide proper identification?
Thanks!
Aubrey
Southwest Georgia

Four Spotted Owlfly
Four Spotted Owlfly

Hi Aubrey,
What a spectacular photo of an Owlfly in the family Ascalaphidae, probably the Four Spotted Owlfly, Ululodes quadripunctatus. BugGuide has an excellent page with information on the species. Owlflies are Neuropterans and are related to Lacewings.

Letter 12 – Owlfly

 

possible basket-tail dragonfly??
Sat, May 30, 2009 at 7:29 PM
This bug has been hanging out on my friend’s screen door for two days now, it moves around the screen so we know it’s not dead but it hasn’t flown away either. It’s kind of cute but in a creepy way 🙂 My friend searched online and thinks it might be a basket-tail dragonfly
Shara
Kerrville, Texas

Owlfly
Owlfly

Hi Shara,
This is an Owlfly in the family Ascalaphidae. It is related to Antlions and Lacewings together in the order Neuroptera. Despite resembling a Dragonfly, it is not closely related. We suspect your specimen is the species Ascaloptynx appendiculata which is found in the south west to Arizona according to BugGuide. Adults and larvae are both predatory, and adults are nocturnal. Many nocturnal insects are attracted to lights, and that would explain its presence on the screen door.

Letter 13 – Owlfly

 

Possible Dragonfly?
July 21, 2009
Seen on my front door casing today. I took the photo without disturbing the bug. I assume it is a dragonfly, but was not sure due to the position of the wings. I would love to know the specific type of insect.
EmHem
Dallas/Ft.Worth metroplex

Owlfly
Owlfly

Dear EmHem,
This is an Owlfly, a Neuropteran in the family Ascalaphidae.  According to BugGuide they are:  “Bizarre creatures that look like a cross between a dragonfly and a butterfly. The body resembles that of other neuropterans, more-or-less, but the prominent antennae are clubbed like those of butterflies. Key characters:
Medium to large size
Clubbed antennae
Eyes large and bulge out from head
may rest in cryptic posture with abdomen projecting from perch, resembling a twig
.” BugGuide also indicates “The two North American genera can be keyed easily based on structure of the eyes. Genus Ululodes has divided eyes.”  Based on that information, it appears your Owlfly is in the genus Ululodes.  Of the three species represented in the genus on BugGuide, your specimen most closely resembles Ululodes macleayanus.

Letter 14 – Owlfly

 

dragonfly that’s not
July 13, 2010
This was taken in the Galveston, Texas area in the back yard. At first it appeared to be a juvenile dragonfly but the wings are not correct for one, and it has extremely long antennae. It also seems to have some sort of silk it streams. I’ve searched and searched but can’t find it. What is it?
Mrs.Lubner
20 miles north of Galveston Island on the mainland of the Texas Gulf Coast

Owlfly

Dear Mrs. Lubner,
Your insect is an Owlfly in the order Neuroptera which contains Lacewings and Antlions, and in the family Ascalaphidae and the genus Ululodes.  The genus Ululodes is characterized by grooved eyes which your closeup nicely illustrates.  You can read more about this genus on BugGuide.  We do not get many photos of Owlflies, and photos of the excellent quality you have provided are always desirable.

Owlfly

Letter 15 – Owlfly

 

Owlfy?
Location:  Grand Prairie, TX
July 19, 2010 6:43 pm
I found this bug resting on a bamboo support I use for my tomato plants. I live near Dallas, TX and found it at approximately 9:00 AM July 19, 2010. It held very still for its picture.
Ruth Gilgenbach

Owlfly

Hi Ruth,
Your identification of an Owlfly is absolutely correct.  In our opinion, it is in the genus
Ululodes, based on the divided compound eyes.

Letter 16 – Owlfly

 

Subject: Hybrid Mosquito – Dragonfly?
Location: Gainesville, FL
June 13, 2012 7:53 am
I found this nearly dead on the window sill in my garage. I’ve lived in Florida my entire life and never seen anything like this.
Signature: Surprise me

Owlfly

Dear Surprise me,
This is an Owlfly, and they really do seem to have characteristics from diverse orders of insects.  They are actually taxonomically grouped with Lacewings and Antlions in the order Neuroptera.

Letter 17 – Owlfly

 

Subject: Owlfly?
Location: Southeast Louisiana, USA
September 19, 2012 11:21 pm
Found this little friend Just north of Audubon Park in new Orleans Louisiana…
I think it’s an Owlfly, and thought the wild eyes were simply too cool not to share.
Thank you for what you do.
Signature: -John

Owlfly

Hi John,
The eyes of this Owlfly really are amazing.  The eyes appear to be grooved, so based on information posted to BugGuide, we suspect this is a Four Spotted Owlfly. 

Letter 18 – Owlfly

 

Subject: Butterfly Damselfly mix
Location: La Marque, Tx
November 2, 2012 11:14 pm
I was simply blown away by this one. The more i looked at it the more i got confused. My first thought was maybe it was a cross between a butterfly and a damselfly. Looking at its antennaes made me think it was a butterly. But those wings made me think that it could possibly be a damselfly. Can anyone please identify this one. I’ve been really trying to put a tab on this beautiful insect for a long time.
Signature: Thanks in advance, Tx Finest

Owlfly

Dear Tx Finest,
The first time we had to identify an Owlfly from Europe, we were equally confused.  Owlflies are actually Neuropterans, and they are related to Antlions and Lacewings.

Letter 19 – Owlfly

 

Subject: flying bug
Location: southwest louisiana
July 4, 2015 9:34 pm
Hello, just wondering what type of bug this is?
Signature: ?

Owlfly
Owlfly

This fascinating creature is an Owlfly in the family Ascalaphidae, and according to BugGuide, they are:  “Bizarre creatures that look like a cross between a dragonfly and a butterfly. The body resembles that of other neuropterans, more-or-less, but the prominent antennae are clubbed like those of butterflies. Key characters:  Medium to large size, Clubbed antennae, Eyes large and bulge out from head, may rest in cryptic posture with abdomen projecting from perch, resembling a twig.”

Letter 20 – Owlfly

 

Subject: Dragonfly mimic butterfly in Texas
Location: Katy (Fort Bend County) Texas
June 5, 2016 8:27 am
I came across this insect this morning. At first, I thought it was a dragonfly, but when I looked closer and saw the antennae, I knew immediately that it’s a butterfly. I have had no luck tracking it down online. Can you identify it for me?
Thanks!
Signature: DougM

Owlfly
Owlfly

Dear DougM,
The first time we saw an image of a European Owlfly, we were equally confused.  Owlflies are classified with Lacewings and Antlions, and all members of the family Neuroptera, both larvae and adults, are predators.  Neuropteran larvae including Aphid Wolves and Doodlebugs are about the most frightening looking creatures imaginable if scale with humans were equalized.

Owlfly
Owlfly

Letter 21 – Owlfly and unknown luminescence

 

Luminescent Bug
Location:
Rochester, Minnesota
August 25, 2010 7:27 pm
Hi Bugman!
re Image 1: My brother found this in Minnesota and said that the luminscence was real and not an artifact of the photo. It looks familiar but I am stumped. Any clues?
re Image 2- My Nephew found this little guy and said he only saw 4 legs and that it looked like a moving piece of schmutz. Ideas? (Sorry about low-res).
Thanks!!
DeWaine from Homer

Owlfly

Hi DeWaine,
We can identify your insect, but we have no comment on the alleged luminescence which is not a typical characteristic of the pictured insect.  The insect found by your brother is an Owlfly in the family Ascalaphidae.  Owlflies are Neuropterans that are related to Lacewings and Antlions.  They are, according to BugGuide:  “Bizarre creatures that look like a cross between a dragonfly and a butterfly. The body resembles that of other neuropterans, more-or-less, but the prominent antennae are clubbed like those of butterflies.
”  Owlflies are not capable of emitting light, so the luminescence is a mystery that we are not equipped to solve.  The other insect is a Masked Hunter.

Letter 22 – Owlfly from the Dominican Republic

 

Subject:  What’s that bug
Geographic location of the bug:  Dominican republic
August 27, 2017 2:53 PM
Hi, while hiking on Quinicua Dominican Republic, found this cicada and a butterfly? i though at first it was a dragonfly but then saw the antenna, do you have any idea what it is.
Thanks
How you want your letter signed:  Suzette

Owlfly

Dear Suzette,
This is not a Butterfly, but rather an Owlfly in the family Ascalaphidae.  The first time we received an image of an Owlfly from Italy many years ago, we didn’t know what we were looking at since Owlflies seem to have characteristics from so many insect orders.  Owlflies are in the order Neuroptera, and they are classified with Lacewings and Antlions.  Here is an image from BugGuide and the BugGuide description is “Bizarre creatures that look like a cross between a dragonfly and a butterfly. The body resembles that of other neuropterans, more-or-less, but the prominent antennae are clubbed like those of butterflies. Key characters:  Medium to large size, Clubbed antennae, Eyes large and bulge out from head, may rest in cryptic posture with abdomen projecting from perch, resembling a twig.”  We are unable to locate any information on species from Dominican Republic, but we did find images of Owlflies from Costa Rica on Quaoar Power Zoo.

 

Letter 23 – Owlfly from Australia

 

Owlfly pics
Hi Bugman,
I thought your patrons might enjoy this picture i took of an owlfly in the Atherton Tablelands, QLD Australia. I was referred to your website by a friend and was subsequently able to identify this cute critter as an ascalaphid. Thanks a bunch, what a great site!!!
Erin
Reedsville, PA

Hi Erin,
Your Owlfly photo is quite beautiful and we are thrilled to post it.

Letter 24 – Owlfly from Brazil

 

Please check these images
Location:  Guanhães / MG Brazil
October 19, 2012
Hi, Daniel.
Man, I recieved these images and please, I want your opinion.
I think that they are a big joke, but his words seem to be so serious.
I never saw anything close to this, it has dragonflies wings in a hairy body. I’m thinking it’s made of plastic.
I would be very glad with your opinion.
Cesar Crash

Owlfly

Ed. Note:  Here is the original letter received by Cesar.
Este inseto foi fotografado,em remanescente de Mata Atlântica, no alto de um rochedo com aproximadamente 1.102m de altitude.No mês de outubro.

Owlfly

Hi Cesar,
I think it is an Owlfly.
?s=owlfly&searchsubmit.x=12&searchsubmit.y=10
May I post the pictures?

Thank you very much!
It seems that the species is Albardia furcata: http://acta.inpa.gov.br/fasciculos/13-4/PDF/v13n4a13.pdf
I’m asking for permission to give you the pictures, I’m sure that’s OK.
Here is the link for the post.
Thanx again!

Owlfly

Letter 25 – Owlfly from France

 

help
I don’t know how you are on French moths/burnets but we are struggling to identify the enclosed found in the Lot Valley, South-west France. Can you help or suggest somewhere that we might look?
Hilary Jones

Hi Hilary,
Back in June 2005, we received another image of this Owlfly, a Neuropteran in the family Ascalaphidae. It might be Ascalaphus libelluloides.

Letter 26 – Owlfly from France

 

Subject: French moth?
Location: Gers, France
May 23, 2012 10:20 am
Fast-flying. Daytime. Meadow. May 13th. Can’t find it anywhere online but was obviously very common.
Signature: Jay

Owlfly

Hi Jay,
The first time we saw a photo of this French Owlfly,
Ascalaphus libelluloides which is pictured on TrekNature, we didn’t know what to think.  It has characteristics from several different insect orders, including the moths and butterflies.  Owlflies are actually related to Antlions and Lacewings.

Wow, thanks ; that’s brilliant and a fast reply too. Like you I was looking all over for it and had even considered dragonflies after exhausting what I could find on moths. Great to know what it really is. Jay

Letter 27 – Owlfly from France

 

Subject: Please identify
Location: Languedoc, France
November 4, 2015 3:37 pm
Seen in Languedoc, France in clearing on wooded hillside. Taken in early June . Localised, there were about ten in this clearing.
Signature: David

Owlfly
Owlfly

Dear David,
This delicately beautiful insect, despite its clubbed antennae that would seem to indicate it is some type of butterfly or skipper, is an Owlfly,
Ascalaphus libelluloides, in the family Ascalaphidae.

Daniel,
Many thanks for the excellent response.
David

Letter 28 – Owlfly from Israel

 

unknown dragonfly-type insect
May 28, 2009
Hello
I found this insect in my home entrance.
Four similarly sized wings, folding back.
Large eyes with a small “ball” on each antenna tip.
Abdomen and rear held straight up. Six legs.
Size compared to pen in picture.
Rotem Ziser
Zichron Yaakov, Israel

Owlfly
Owlfly

Dear Rotem,
It was a very slow day here at What’s That Bug? and we posted a few new letters and decided to dig way back into the unanswered mail for a few more.  Your letter was selected at random.  This is an Owlfly, a relative of Lacewings and Antlions.

Letter 29 – Owlfly from Italy

 

Subject:  Dragonfly?
Geographic location of the bug:  Abruzzo, Italy
Date: 05/09/2019
Your letter to the bugman:  Hi, again
Wandering through the woods, today, when I spotted, what I thought was a butterfly.
After checking out all Italian species, with no joy, I checked the image again.  It was then I noticed what appears to be claspers on the end of the abdomen.  Thought – Dragonfly?
Checked for Italian dragonflies but nothing looking like this and with such a short abdomen?
Would really appreciate an ID for this, whatever it is.
Regards
How you want your letter signed:  Fof

Owlfly

Dear Fof,
The first time we ever saw an image of a European Owlfly in the family Ascalaphidae, we had no idea what we were looking at as it seemed to have characteristics of so many different insect orders.  Owlflies are classified with Lacewings and Antlions in the order Neuroptera.  Based on this Minden Pictures image, we believe your Owlfly is
Libelloides coccajus.

Owlfly
Hi Daniel
Thank you.  I have never heard of Owlflies before. I am glad I was not the only one a bit confused with this little beastie.
When I first saw it, its flight pattern looked like a butterfly.
Looking at the images, I noticed pterostigma on the forewings and claspers.  However the claspers looked way too big and the abdomen way too small for a dragonfly.
On top of that, there are no ponds or lakes in the vicinity, only the River Mavone.  That would not be suitable for dragonflies, as it is a fairly fast flowing river, even now when it is at its lowest, with a very rocky bed.  In full flood, in the winter, it is not unusual for boulders the size of small cars to come smashing their way down from the Apennines.
I love to learn something new each day – today was definitely a bonus day.
Regards
Fof

Letter 30 – Owlfly from Kenya

 

Owlfly?
Location: Nairobi, Kenya
October 28, 2010 2:28 pm
Found this on the kitchen cupboard
I think I’ve narrowed it down to Ascalaphidae (but please tell me if I’m way off the mark!).
It was about 8pm
Signature: Zarek

Owlfly

Dear Zarek,
We agree that this is an Owlfly in the family Ascalaphidae, and it does have an unusually shaped abdomen.

Owlfly

Letter 31 – Owlfly from South Africa

 

Unidentified Dragonfly/moth?
March 26, 2010
Hi, I found this insect on my facecloth last night. Could you tell me what it is as I have never seen anything like it before. It was definitely real, I say this because it looks so fake.
Regards,
Cherie
Cape Point area of Cape Town, South Africa

Owlfly

Hi Cherie,
This is a Neuropteran known as an Owlfly, and it is closely related to Lacewings and Antlions.  Owlflies are unusual insects that really do resemble a cross of several different insect orders.

Letter 32 – Owlfly from Tuscany

 

Subject: What’s this flying beastie?
Location: tuscany
April 26, 2015 8:42 am
Took this photo in N. Italy last year. Cannot find what species it is. Can you identify I please?
Signature: Eric

Owlfly
Owlfly

Dear Eric,
The first time we received an image of this particular European Owlfly,
Ascalaphus libelluloides, we did not know how to classify it as it has characteristics associated with several different insect orders.  Owlflies are related to Lacewings and Antlions, and they are classified in the order Neuroptera. 

Great…your are a star…it’s been bugging me (sorry) for a while.
Thanks

Letter 33 – Owlfly Hatchlings from South Africa

 

Subject: Bug in South Africa
Location: Fish Hoek, Western Cape, South Africa
January 30, 2016 2:21 pm
Hi – can anyone help us identify these ‘bugs’ found in Fish Hoek, Western Cape, South Africa. Image showing them ‘hatched’ from eggs, and then a crop in closer. Many thanks Robyn
Signature: Robyn

Owlfly Hatchlings
Owlfly Hatchlings

Dear Robyn,
We are quite sure these are Neuropteran Hatchlings, but not until we found this matching image in iSpot of Owlfly Hatchlings, could we determine that they are in the family Ascalaphidae.

Owlfly Hatchlings
Owlfly Hatchlings

Letter 34 – Owlfly from India

 

Subject: dragonfly???
Location: mumbai, maharashtra, India
December 22, 2013 8:57 am
This fellow looks cool
Signature: Sid

Owlfly
Owlfly

Hi again Sid,
This is an Owlfly in the family Ascalaphidae, one of the Neuropterans related to Lacewings and Antlions.

Letter 35 – Owlfly larva from Panama

 

Subject:  insects
Geographic location of the bug:  Panama Canal area
Date: 04/04/2018
Time: 01:01 AM EDT
Your letter to the bugman:  Can you help me identify some of these insects I saw in Panama, near the Canal?
How you want your letter signed:  moabdds

Owlfly Larva

Dear moabdds,
The insect on the leaf is the larva of an insect in the order Neuroptera, probably an Owlfly larva based on this image posted to FlickR.  The larvae of Owlflies are predators.

Letter 36 – Owlfly from South Africa

 

Subject: Flying insect
Location: Napier, Western Cape, South Africa
January 20, 2016 10:55 pm
This quite strange insect came flying in (attracted to the light from my reading lamp).
Time: about 22.00 Tuesday 19 January.
Signature: Johann van der Merwe

Owlfly
Owlfly

Dear Johann,
This looks like an Owlfly in the family Ascalaphidae and it resembles this individual from iSpot that is only identified to the family level.

Letter 37 – Owlfly from South Africa

 

Subject:  Owlfly South Africa
Geographic location of the bug:  KwaZulu Natal, South Africa
Date: 02/07/2018
Time: 05:58 PM EDT
Your letter to the bugman:  I found this Owlfly on a pumpkin leaf in the early evening. I’ve not seen one before and would like to identity which Owlfly it is.
How you want your letter signed:  Katherine

Owlfly

Dear Katherine,
Owlflies belong to the family Ascalaphidae. Your individual resembles this individual posted to iSpot, but it is not identified to the species level.

Letter 38 – Possibly Owlfly Larva from Thailand

 

(12/25/2005) Antlion?
My four year old son found this critter this morning. At first I thought it was an Antlion, but it doesn’t act like one. It was crawling around the leaves of a Croton bush and doesn’t back up like Antlions usually do. Any help identifying it would be appreciated.
David

Hi David,
Please write back with your global coordinates? Please tell us in what part of the world was this found?

Sorry, I live in the Northeast of Thailand. What size do you want pictures submitted in? Can’t find any info on the site. Thanks again, I’d really like to know what this critter is.

Thanks for the followup information. It is helpful that we are not trying to identify a North American species. We are not 100% sure yet and we are waiting for a second opinion from Eric Eaton. We think it looks like an Owlfly larva, but we would not rule out that it might be the larva of another Neuropteran, like an Antlion.

 

Letter 39 – Owlfly Larva

 

Subject:  Extinct trilobite found!
Geographic location of the bug:  Oklahoma
Date: 06/12/2019
Time: 04:58 PM EDT
Your letter to the bugman:  Found this out by our pool. I realize it’s not really a trilobite, but it looks like one. Maybe an ant lion?
How you want your letter signed:  Gage

Owlfly Larva

Dear Gage,
We believe this is a Beetle larva, and we also believe we might have a similar image in our archives, but we cannot remember its identity.  Daniel is currently in Ohio, using pirated and very slow internet connections, and research is time consuming.  We are posting your marvelous submission as Unidentified and we hope our readership will come to our rescue and provide comments as to its identity.
  We would not rule out that it might be some species of Woodlouse (see BugGuide).  Can you perhaps provide an image of the ventral surface or tell us how many legs it has?

Update:  Owlfly Larva
Thanks to a comment from Cesar Crash, we researched Owlfly larvae on BugGuide and located this matching image.  Mystery solved.

Authors

    by
  • 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.

  • 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.

17 thoughts on “Owlfly: All You Need to Know – Quick Guide to Fascinating Facts”

  1. The glow looks like a reflection from a light off of the fluttering wings of the owlfly. I won’t speculate as to the light’s source.

    Reply
  2. This is definitely Albardia furcata, probably the most primitive living owlfly species. I am studying them for my dissertation research. I am also seeking additional freshly caught specimens!

    Reply
  3. Okay, so I read somewhere recently that when insects hold their bottom up like that it is the female signaling to the males she is no longer available (and if he still tries, he cannot find a purchase in his efforts).

    Curious little bug facts that help make the world of the tiny all the more fascinating.

    Reply
  4. Okay, so I read somewhere recently that when insects hold their bottom up like that it is the female signaling to the males she is no longer available (and if he still tries, he cannot find a purchase in his efforts).

    Curious little bug facts that help make the world of the tiny all the more fascinating.

    Reply
  5. Two days ago I observe what I thought was a lacewing on the driveway gate as I locked it. Eight hours later it was still there but my arrival alarmed it and if flew away before I could photograph it for ID. Now I believe it was an Owlfly from numerous aspects. WOW!

    Reply

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