Snakefly – All You Need to Know

In this article, we tell you everything that you would like to know about snakefly.

The first thing you need to know about a snakefly is that it is neither a snake nor a fly. It is a neuropterous insect and is closely related to lacewings. 

Snakeflies are an old species that have been around and unchanged for a long time.

As per fossil records, they have been around for more than 50 million years

Read on to get these and more interesting facts about snakeflies.

Snakefly
Snakefly

What Are Snakeflies?

Belonging to the order of Raphidioptera, snakeflies are a group of small, black, predatory insects that flourish across the world. 

The body of the snakefly has three separate segments.

The second segment, called the prothorax, is long and ends in a flattened head. The elongated prothorax lends it a snake-like appearance and, consequently, the name. 

They have thin, translucent wings with a network of visible veins, just like lacewings. Their bodies are shiny black in color, with 2 compound eyes. The larvae are reddish to gray in color. 

Evolutionary History of Snakeflies

To date, scientists have identified around 200 species of snakeflies. In fact, as recently as 2009, H. Aspöck & U. Aspöck discovered two more new species of snakeflies. 

As we said earlier, snakeflies have been around for much longer than humans, and as per the latest fossil studies, we believe they might have been here even 50 million years ago. 

Snakefly

Despite this, the extant snakeflies we see today are quite similar to the ones found in the Jurassic period.

Moreover, fossil records also show that there was a time when these bugs used to live in the tropical regions of the world. 

However, over time they have moved away and now live only in places where the climate is much colder. 

Today, cold weather has become a major part of their lifecycle. 

It is believed that the very change from cold to slightly less cool weather triggers their metamorphosis from larvae to adults.

Scientists are not sure when or why this happened and why snakeflies did not keep their ability to live in warmer climates.

Where Do They Live?

Snakeflies are found all over the world, mostly in colder climates.

Their distribution ranges from Europe to Asia, Africa, and parts of Central and North America.

Most of the population concentration is in East Asia. The only continents they do not inhabit are Antarctica and Australia

They are commonly found in coniferous forests, living on trees, or in the soil. Larvae nest beneath tree barks or loose piles of leaves.

Snakefly

 

What Do They Eat? 

Both adult snakeflies and larval instars are predators. They prey on smaller, soft-bodied insects, aphids, caterpillars, insect eggs, and mites. They are an important predator in the forest ecosystem and are beneficial in orchards.

Especially in pear orchards, they feed on the pear psylla – a pest that sucks out the sap from pear fruits and trees. 

Studies show pollen in the digestive tracts of snakeflies. But whether they actually drink nectar or not is unclear. Their behavior is territorial and predatory. 

What is the Lifecycle of Snakeflies

Females lay eggs that are long and cylindrical in shape. The larva that emerges is flattened, shiny, and has large, projecting mandibles.

The instar stage of the snakefly larvae is quite interesting. Unlike other insects that have a fixed number of instar stages (usually 3 or 4) – snakeflies can go through as many as required. 

They remain in the larval stage for as long as three years and can go through 10 instar stages. 

Snakefly Larva

Larvae feed on smaller insects and finally go into a pupa. The pupa is active, which means it is capable of reacting by biting or walking upon sensing danger. 

The mandible of the larvae also helps it to chew its way out from the pupae. 

Depending on the temperature, the larvae mainly remain within the pupa for many months waiting for the ideal temperature. 

When scientists subject the larvae to a constant temperature range, they sometimes end up in a stagnant state where they never undergo chrysalis. 

But under ideal circumstances, as the temperatures rise, adult snakeflies emerge.

Female snakeflies are bigger than males and have an ovipositor at the end to deposit eggs within barks or the soil. An adult snakefly is smaller than an inch

Do They Bite or Sting Humans? 

The mouthparts of both adults are larvae that are non-specialized but are strong and capable of biting. The larvae also have projecting mandibles

Having said this, they do not usually bite humans. They are beneficial for orchards and plantations as they help keep mites and aphids in check. 

However, there do exist records of people being bitten by the larvae (read the emails section)! 

If you see them indoors, just dispose of them with a vacuum. They cannot sting, though the females have an ovipositor which may look similar to a stinger. 

Square Headed Snakefly

What To Do If They Bite? 

A snakefly biting a human is quite rare. But we do have records of both larvae and adults biting our readers, and the bites are said to be quite painful. 

Adults, especially females, can be aggressive if they sense danger and resort to biting. 

While the bite can be painful, you can simply pick off the insect and dispose of it. Treat the bite with a cold compress, followed by an antibacterial solution and ointment. 

Are They Poisonous or Venomous?

Snakeflies are not poisonous or venomous to humans. Their bites are painful but do not cause any additional swelling. 

No medical visit is necessary. The pain is similar to being pricked by a large ant. However, it goes away soon, even without any treatment. 

Are They Harmful to Humans as Pests? 

Snakeflies are not considered pests. Pests attack plants and crops, feeding on fruits, flowers, and plant sap. 

They are predatory and do not harm crops in any way. On the contrary, they are a good addition to your garden since they eat up smaller pests. 

Snakefly

Are They Beneficial?

Generally, they are beneficial for gardens, plantations, and orchards. They destroy the eggs, larvae, and pupa of many smaller insects like mites and aphids, which feed on plant sap. 

A good garden ecosystem will have enough of these predatory insects to keep the crops in check. 

Can They Come Inside Homes?

It’s quite possible for adult snakeflies to fly into homes. If you happen to see some, do not touch them with your bare hand. It’s best not to squash them. 

Instead, use cardboard to swat them away and dispose of them outside. In gardens, you can spray insecticides on plants if you suffer from a snakefly infestation. 

The insecticide will kill their food source and eventually starve the snakeflies. 

What Are They Attracted To?

Snakefly adults are nocturnal. They are attracted to light. This could be one of the reasons why you end up finding some in your home. 

Scientists also use pheromones that attract them to trap them in black boxes and use them for studies. 

How To Get Rid of Them? 

Ideally, you need not get rid of snakeflies. If they enter your home, the first step should always be to remove them from there and leave them in the garden. 

To prevent them from entering your home, seal all crevices and use screens on your windows. Put a mesh around any other opening or ventilation space. 

However, if there is an infestation in your garden, you can spray your plants with a narrow-spectrum insecticide. 

The lack of smaller insects as food will cause the snakeflies to starve or move elsewhere. 

You can also spray the insecticide on tree bark or the top soil layer where the adults lay their eggs. 

But beware – that lack of predatory insects can cause plant-eating insects to rise in number once the insecticide wears off. 

Interesting Facts About Snakeflies

  1. Snakeflies have been around since the Jurassic period.
  2. They are very clumsy fliers. Their flight patterns are unruly, and they often bump into things.
  3. Snakeflies lick themselves thoroughly before mating in an effort to groom themselves!
  4. Snakefly larvae can move both forward and backward using a process called undulation.

Frequently Asked Questions 

What does a snakefly do?

Snakeflies mainly spend their lives feeding on other insects. Both adults and larvae are predatory and pretty good ones at that. 
They are very territorial and aggressive, even during the pupal stage. The pupa can even bite if disturbed!

What do snake flies look like?

Larval snakeflies have a dark red to gray segmented body with a large mandible. Adults are black with an elongated thorax and a flattened head. 
Their wings are transparent, riddled with veins, and form a roof-cover-like structure when they rest. 

Can a snake fly in the sky?

All species of snakefly adults have papery thin wings that allow them to fly. However, they are weak flyers and mostly focused on hunting than flying in the sky. 
Larvae look very different from adults. They are wingless and flightless.

Are drain flies harmful to humans?

Drain flies are commonly found grey flies that breed in moist areas like sinks and sewers. They cannot bite or sting and are non-toxic. 
However, they carry pathogens from foraging around in the trash and can transfer those to humans. They can also cause allergic reactions. 

Wrap Up

Snakeflies are found in abundance but are still interesting insects to study. They are one of the few insects that can form a pupa that is capable of biting and movement. 

Their lifespans are long, and the larvae can keep growing until a suitable season for pupating. There are still ongoing studies to know more about them. 

Thank you for reading.

Reader Emails

Their unique appearance and rich history have meant that snakeflies have always had admirers in the bug lovers community.

Read through some of the emails below from our readers, and the pics and .

Letter 1 – Snakefly

 

Snakefly
You mentioned that you didn’t have a lot of photos of Snakeflies. Here’s a great shot that my son took with a digital camera of a Snakefly on an 3/16 inch diameter irrigation drip tube. We didn’t know what it was when he took the picture and he named it the “Dragon Bug”.
Bill

Hi Bill,
Thanks for sending in a wonderful photograph.

Letter 2 – Snakefly

 

Snakefly
Howdy there!
Just discovered your excellent site and really enjoyed all the hard work you have done putting the wonderful site together. I wish there was an identical site for flowers and plants. There are a few close ones but nothing as easy and extensive as yours. I have always enjoyed learning about insects and the rest of the critters around us every since I was able to talk I think. Should have done it for a living but here I am doing what I can to share the knowledge of such things. It is with great appreciation to have a site like yours to search and share alike. Thank YOU! As a graphic designer and web designer I am with an understanding of what it takes to pull off the task you guys are managing. I also have a freelance blog with the local paper here in Redding, California which today I included a link to your wonderful site. http://blogs.redding.com/redding/dlangshaw/
Thanks again and feel free to use the attached images if you like.
Best regards,
Duane Langshaw

Hi Duane,
Thank you for your glowing compliments and also your wonderful photo of a Snakefly.

Letter 3 – Snakefly

 

snakefly
I took pictures of this bug and then was able to identify it using your website. When I saw the word ‘Snakefly’ I knew I had my bug. For once, something was aptly named. I observed this bug for awhile before I let it go. It was fascinating. It hop-flies. I used my crummy little digital to get a picture of it. I improved upon the macro by taking the picture through a jeweler’s loupe. It worked great! He started posing for me, I swear. Here’s the pic. Thanks for your website. You’re a gem!
Kay Herndon
Spicewood, Texas

Hi Kay,
We are very impressed that you properly identified your Snakefly through our site. Thank you for the sweet letter and also your great photo. We haven’t many Snakefly images and your is a welcome addition.

Letter 4 – Snakefly

 

“Giraffe” bug?
Hi there,
I encountered this interesting bug on a recent hike, and would LOVE to know what the heck it is. Thanks for your time and your excellent service.
Cheers,
Numlok

Hi Numlok,
We were a little too busy to answer mail yesterday, and we are thrilled that you used the site to identify your Snakefly without any further assistance from us.

Letter 5 – Snakefly

 

What’s this bug? lol
I got the link to this site from the GardenMessenger Group on Yahoo and have just become so fascinated with your site. Lots of great info. Well, I came looking because I found a bug I’ve not seen before and it seems to frequent my passion flower vine and fuchsias. The passion vine seems to be getting nibbled more so. From looking at your site, I’m guessing it is some kind of Ichneumon Wasp. The photo I managed to get is of one with a slightly thicker body. I’ve seen others that are completely twig thin. The necks are also elongated with the head at the end. Anyway, picture is enclosed, and am wondering if this is the leaf-eating culprit or if it’s good at eating the leaf-eaters. Oh, and I’m in Spokane, Washington if that helps too.
Best Wishes and Thank You-
Andrew

Hi Andrew,
Your insect is a Snakefly from the family Raphidiidae, within the Nerve Winged Insect Order Neuroptera. Adults are predators, not plant eaters. They are probably helping to control the aphids and scale insects on your plants.

Letter 6 – Snakefly

 

Weird bug looks like a dobsonfly and yellow jacket mixed
Hi,
My wife and I found this bug in our house on the curtains. I have never seen one before so there’s no worries or anything, I was just curious and wanted to find out what it was. I looked all over the internet and can’t find it, but after coming across your site, I figured maybe you could help? We live in the Willamette Valley in Oregon. I saw pictures of dobsonfly’s and it looks similar to that but it has a longer neck and a body like a yellow jacket with a long tail (maybe a stinger???). I look forward to hearing from you!
P.S. Thanks for the great website, I find it very fascinating! 🙂
Andy

Dear Andy,
You have taken a photograph of a Common Snakefly, Agulla species. They can be recognized by their elongated prothorax and projecting head. Adults feed on small soft-bodies insects including young scale insects, aphids and mites, and are beneficial to farmers and gardeners. They are members of the order of Nerve-Winged Insects, Neuroptera that also include Dobsonflies.

Hello,
I got busy and never had a chance to reply and thank you. Thank you for identifying the insect and replying so quickly! I love your site and hope you continue to run it for years to come. You provide a very unique and excellent service. Thanks again.
Andy

Letter 7 – Snakefly and Tips on Getting our Attention!!!

 

Strange dinosaur bug in Carmichael CA —–What could it be?????????????
Hi
I found this winged bug sitting on my car’s window this afternoon. It immediately caught my attention because -seriously- it looked reptilian. It’s colors were dark green, yellow and it had orange legs. It really looked like it had scales. It’s neck and antenna are long and it has a long tail too that I thought at first was a stinger. But the longer we looked at each other the more I started to doubt that that’s what it was. Anyway, as soon as I saw this little guy, I thought of you and ran back upstairs to get my camera. I’m sending you several images of it. Sadly, the image from the side is blurry -my camera just couldn’t focus. But I’m sending it anyway because you can still see the arch of it’s long tail. I know you guys can’t answer every email but please answer mine? This bug is just so pretty! And I really want to know what it is. The way it moved was just so graceful! It’s long neck seemed so flexible when it would bend and it’s little head was just so…let’s just say that it was checking me out as much as I was checking it out! It was so cool. Please help me identify it? Thanks so much! I love your site!!!!!!!
Jen in Carmichael CA

Hi Jen,
It is true that we cannot answer every email. We are not proud to admit it, but when we get swarms of emails, and our real lives cannot allow us the luxury to post to the internet, we delete many emails without even opening them. No subject in the subject line will most certainly wind up in the trash. You, on the otherhand, know how to catch our attention. How could we even try to ignore a letter that starts with “Strange dinosaur bug in Carmichael CA —–What could it be?????????????”? The answer is we just can’t. Another big pet peeve of ours is not including a location, and your letter even included that in the subject line. Catching our attention when we are scanning letters can be likened to a one sentence pitch for a movie script. You need to grab our attention and intrigue us. You Jen, did just that. Before we even opened the email and read it, we started to wonder just what bug you thought looked like a dinosaur. Well, this is a female Snake Fly. The tail is her ovipositor. Snakeflies are Neuropterans, and there are some other monstrous members in the order. Just take a look at our Dobsonfly page. Snakeflies are in the suborder Raphidiodea. Thanks for a descriptive letter that is fun to read, a catchy subject line, and a nice photo to complete the package. This is our favorite type of letter to post.

Letter 8 – Snakefly

 

new bugs
Hello,
Enclosed are a few things I thought you might like. The first is an interesting little grasshopper I found at work with very long back legs. The second is a TINY praying mantis nymph I found right outside my door. The third is something I’ve never seen before, and I have yet to locate one on your website. I have no idea what it is, but I would chance that it is female, as it has an enlarged abdomen and a possible ovipositor. I would love to know what this is. I really like it, and it’s one of the better pictures I’ve taken. Any help would be appreciated. Thank you!
Cat

So I looked around some more, and I guess that it’s a snakefly. I had never heard of them before, but I finally came across it because I realized it reminded me of a lacewing. Oh well. In any case, I hope you like the picture! Thanks!

Hi Cat,
We are very happy to hear that our site enabled you to identify your own Snakefly. We love promoting research empowerment. Your photo is also a much welcomed addition to our site.

Letter 9 – Snakefly

 

Winged But with Long Neck
Sat, Feb 28, 2009 at 11:43 AM
Hi! I’ve seen this guy three times in the last week and finally got him to sit still for a picture. He seems to be alone, there is no swarm. He hangs out on walls and flies only as a last resort. We’ve just had some spring rains, so maybe that has something to do with his appearance now. Thanks for your help!
STW
Santa Barbara, CA

Snakefly
Snakefly

Dear STW,
Over the years, we have had countless letters from people who want buts identified. Perhaps it is the proximity of the g to the t on a keyboard. This is a Snakefly. Snakeflies are in the order Raphidioptera and according to BugGuide: “Formerly Raphidioidea, a suborder of Neuroptera. ” That means we need to reclassify all the Snakefly postings on our site to conform to the new taxonomy. Adults and larvae are both predatory.

Dear Daniel,
Thank you so much for the Snakefly info.  And I also appreciate your kind treatment of my lack of typing skills!
You’ve got a great site.
STW

 

Letter 10 – Snakefly

 

Unknown Northern California Bug
Sun, Apr 5, 2009 at 3:06 PM
Hello. We live in Palo Alto, CA and have recently stumbled across this ugly bug. It is approximately an inch long, has what looks like a stinger, long wings, and a long neck. My husband thought it might be a sort of baby praying mantis, but after looking at it longer, we agree it must be something else. Does it sting is my question. We recently had a really bad gnat problem on our balcony and I feel like these bugs are living off of the dead gnats. Here is a picture, I hope it helps!
Concerned Stanford Family.
Palo Alto, California, USA

Snakefly
Snakefly

Dear Family,
There is no cause for concern or alarm.  This is a Snakefly in the insect order Raphidioptera.  Both larval and adult Snakeflies are predators so they are beneficial insects.  The “stinger” is actually the ovipositor of the female insect, and is used in the egg laying process.  It is not an organ of defense and the Snakefly does not sting.

Letter 11 – Snakefly

 

Jaws of a beatle, wings of a cicda, and a needle like tail?
Wed, Apr 8, 2009 at 12:59 PM
I happened to notice something in my door jamb so I grabbed my camera a took a couple of photos. I didn’t mess with it because it looked like it could bite or sting me, lol. I live in Concord, CA and there is an abundence of insects that I have never seen. This being the most interesting one I’ve ever seen. I hope the image will provide enough info for you.
Thank you so much for looking, Brodie
Northern California Concord, CA

Snakefly
Snakefly

Hi Brodie,
This is a female Snakefly in the order Raphidioptera.  Snakeflies are harmless predators and the stinger is actually the ovipositor of the female insect.

Letter 12 – Snakefly

 

Long neck, not a mantis?
Sun, Apr 19, 2009 at 6:41 PM
Stanford university, tall grass, mixed oak woodland, middle of a hot spring day. On my leg, probably from the grass.
Dave H
Palo Alto, Ca, USA

Snakefly
Snakefly

Hi Dave,
This is the third Snakefly image we have posted from California in a short period of time.  Perhaps it is a more plentiful year for this harmless predator, or perhaps people are just more closely observing the other creatures we share this troubled world with.

Letter 13 – Snakefly

 

Weird Flying Insect
Tue, May 12, 2009 at 10:23 AM
I was in Reseda, California on Sunday which is in Los Angeles and a strange bug caught my eye. It landed on a bright pink table cloth and started walking around. i noticed it’s long stinger and pattern on it’s wings and quickly grabbed a camera, It did not mind me coming in close, so I shot a few images.
It may be very common, but I have not seen anything like it before. What is it?
My kids would like to know too 🙂
Thanks
Joel Lipton
Los Angeles, Ca

Snakefly
Snakefly

Hi Joel,
What a wonderful photo of a Snakefly in the order Raphidioptera.  The subject has such personality.  These are very distinctive insects and they are not easily confused with anything else.  Your female has a stinger-like ovipositor.

Letter 14 – Snakefly

 

What is this one???
April 12, 2010
Hi, I hope al is well I sent a message a week ago. But, did not get response regarding a bug that I am trying to identify? Is this a Mantis or a Termite
Vicente
Thousand Oaks (Southern California)

Snakefly

Hi Vicente,
This is neither a mantis nor a termite.  It is a beneficial predator known as a Snakefly in the order Raphidioptera.  This is a male because a curiously long ovipositor is absent.  BugGuide has numerous photos of Snakeflies.

Letter 15 – Snakefly

 

Is this a snakefly?
Location: Sierra Nevada, 5.000 ft. elevation, near Dorrington.
March 10, 2011 7:40 pm
There were LOTS of these flying around our cabin in the Sierra last summer. In looking at your site, I noticed that, aside from the large arms by the head, it closely resembles a mantisfly. In another post, it also appears to be much like the snakefly photos, but this one is probably a bit longer at 1-3/4 inches. Not knowing what it was (and this was the first time I’d seen them up there despite our having been going to the same spot for 30+ years), we dubbed it the ”Loch Ness Fly”.
Signature: Typeaux

Snakefly

Dear Typeaux,
You are correct.  This is a Snakefly.  Insects are frequently prone to cyclical appearances.  They won’t be seen for years and suddenly there is a population explosion.

Letter 16 – Snakefly

 

Preschoolers Want to Know!
Location: Encino, CA
March 6, 2012 12:05 pm
Hello…I’m working on a preschool project for 4-5 year olds and we have recently seen this bug on our playground. Please help!
Signature: Billy Berrios

Snakefly

Dear Billy,
Tell the preschoolers that this is a Snakefly, and though the word is a mouthful, it is in the order Raphidioptera and you can browse BugGuide for great information and photos.  The stingerlike ovipositor is an indication that this is a female.  According to BugGuide:  “Both larvae and adults are predatory, though they are capable of catching and killing only small and weak prey. Snakefly larvae feed on eggs and larvae of various insects, as well as adults of minute arthropods (e.g. mites, springtails, barklice, and homopterans). Adults typically prefer aphids but may eat a wide variety of arthropods.”  Snakeflies are perfectly harmless. 

Letter 17 – Snakefly

 

Subject: Termite or Ant
Location: Cupertino, CA
March 26, 2013 11:43 pm
I find this hard to classify based on guidelines I’ve seen. It has only two bulbous body sections, which would seem to make it a termite, but it has a very slim long body section between the two larger sections. The antenni are curled toward the end, but not sharply bent.
It does not look much like any of the images I have seen online of winged ants or termites.
Signature: –scott

Snakefly
Snakefly

Hi Scott,
This is neither a termite nor an ant.  It is a Snakefly in the order Raphidioptera and you can read more about them on BugGuideSnakeflies look much nicer alive than dead.  We are post
dating your submission to go live next week during our absence from the office.

Letter 18 – Snakefly

 

Subject: Unable to Identify Insect…
Location: Sacramento California
June 24, 2014 10:27 pm
Dear Sir,
This insect I found in my home in Sacramento California sometime in early may 2014 I have been trying to identify it if there’s anyway u would be able to me with that id appreciate much…
Thank you..:.
Signature: Jj

Snakefly
Snakefly

Dear Jj,
This amusing and harmless insect is a predatory Snakefly.

Letter 19 – Snakefly

 

Subject: Any idea what this is?

Location: Concord, CA.
November 25, 2014 4:49 pm
Dear Bugman,
I have only seen this bug a few times on Contra Costa County of California.
Any idea what it is?
Signature: Don

Snakefly
Snakefly

Dear Don,
This is one of the best images we have seen of a Snakefly in the order Raphidioptera.  Snakeflies are harmless predators.

Thanks Daniel
It was a bug I had never seen before and the first time I saw it was on a hospital floor.
I wondered if it was some kind of rare exotic poisonous bug that had landed somebody in that hospital.
Its good to know its a fairly normal bug. 🙂
Thanks very much for the identification!
Kind Regards,
Don

Letter 20 – Snakefly

 

Subject: ufb
Location: Crockett, ca
March 17, 2015 2:27 am
Hi, this morning I went into my living room & this bug was just sitting on my blinds. I’ve never seen one like it before. It didn’t scare easily, as I put my camera pretty close, it didn’t budge. I didn’t kill it, but I was a bit worried about the stinger on his backside. What do you think?
Signature: c meyers

Snakefly
Snakefly

Dear c meyers,
This is a harmless Snakefly in the order Raphidioptera.  Your individual is a female as evidenced by her long ovipositor.  Snakeflies are beneficial predators that will neither sting nor bite a human.

Letter 21 – Solitary Bee shares Lupine with Snakefly

 

Subject: Mystery bug hiding on lupine
Location: Sunol-Ohlone Wilderness, CA
April 15, 2015 7:31 pm
I was taking a photo of the bee on the lupine, and only noticed later the insect that was upside down on the stalk. I have no idea what it is, can you please help me identify it?
Signature: R. Battaglia

Solitary Bee shares Lupine with Snakefly
Solitary Bee shares Lupine with Snakefly

Dear R. Battaglia,
The insect hiding along the stalk of the lupine is a Snakefly, in the order Raphidioptera, and according to BugGuide:  “Both larvae and adults are predatory, though they are capable of catching and killing only small and weak prey. Snakefly larvae feed on eggs and larvae of various insects, as well as adults of minute arthropods (e.g. mites, springtails, barklice, and homopterans). Adults typically prefer aphids but may eat a wide variety of arthropods.”
  Though females possess an ovipositor that resembles a stinger, Snakeflies are harmless to humans.  We are very curious about your Solitary Bee because of our interest our own in native pollinators and their relationship to native plants.  This may be a Leafcutter Bee in the genus Megachile, and BugGuide has many subgenera represented, but alas, we would need input from someone with more experience to provide a definitive identification.

Dear Mr. Marlos,
Thank you for the Snakefly ID.  Regarding the bee, although that particular picture was taken in Sunol, I do have a healthy population of leafcutters in my yard in Pleasanton, as evidenced by the many notched leaves of my Redbud.  I’ve had a fabulous collection of native pollinators in my yard this year!
Thanks again,
Robyn

Letter 22 – Snakefly

 

Subject: Strange bug
Location: northern California
April 17, 2015 12:39 am
it is April and i was Northern California. To be more specific the north Bay Area the day I found the big. I was relaxing in a friends backward when it landed on one of the chair pillows we were sitting near. He looks like a dragon fly praying mantis and wasp mixed in one with really cool coloring. I’ve never seen anything of this nature and was very curious to know more about this insect.
Signature: Ariana

Snakefly
Snakefly

Dear Ariana,
This interesting insect is a Snakefly in the order Raphidioptera, and though BugGuide shows them ranging west of the Mississippi River, nearly all of our reported sightings are from California.
  Snakeflies are harmless predators and BugGuide reports that:  “Both larvae and adults are predatory, though they are capable of catching and killing only small and weak prey. Snakefly larvae feed on eggs and larvae of various insects, as well as adults of minute arthropods (e.g. mites, springtails, barklice, and homopterans). Adults typically prefer aphids but may eat a wide variety of arthropods.”  What appears to be a stinger in your image is actually the ovipositor of a female, an organ used in the laying of eggs.  It is also notable that most images we receive are of female Snakeflies, and we are not certain if they are more plentiful than males, or if the presence of the ovipositor makes them more of a curiosity, or if the ovipositor is a cause of concern prompting people to be more inclined to discover if they are a stinging insect that might be harmful to humans.

Letter 23 – Snakefly

 

Subject: insect id
Location: urban area nj
May 28, 2015 12:27 pm
May 27 2015 in new jersey. Just curious 🙂
Signature: Stephanie

Snakefly
Snakefly

Dear Stephanie,
Almost all the images we have posted of Snakeflies in the order Raphidioptera are sent from California. 

Letter 24 – Snakefly from Germany

 

Subject: Is this a mantisfly?
Location: www.google.de/maps/place/Oberschwäbisches+Museumsdorf+Kürnbach/@50.856122,8.1137543,5.25z/data=!4m6!1m3!3m2!1s0x0:0x1a12f9df180e6811!2sOberschwäbisches+Museumsdorf+Kürnbach!3m1!1s0x0:0x1a12f9df180e6811
August 16, 2015 3:00 am
Hi,
I found this bug in front of a farm house in southern germany in july. I had never seen such an insect before so i took the foto. It looks as if it is hevily injured which would explain that it stood still quite long.
It somehow looks like a mantisfly but all pictures of mantisflies occuring in Germany I could find look diffferent so I decided to ask you for help.
Thank you very much
Signature: Roland

Snakefly
Snakefly

Dear Roland,
Although it looks somewhat similar to a Mantisfly, your insect is a Snakefly that is classified in a completely different insect order, Raphidioptera.  According to BugGuide:  “Both larvae and adults are predatory, though they are capable of catching and killing only small and weak prey. Snakefly larvae feed on eggs and larvae of various insects, as well as adults of minute arthropods (e.g. mites, springtails, barklice, and homopterans). Adults typically prefer aphids but may eat a wide variety of arthropods.”

Letter 25 – Snakefly

 

Subject: Snakefly?
Location: Glen Ellen, CA
April 15, 2016 1:06 pm
I was sitting on my back deck when this little bug crawled up next to me on my chair. I stared at it for a long time and couldn’t figure out what it was. Initially worried it was a termite, but considered it could be some kind of flying ant.
I found your site and it looks like it is most likely a female snakefly. Can you confirm?
Thanks!!!
Signature: Bug Rookie

Snakefly
Snakefly

Dear Bug Rookie,
You are correct that this is a Snakefly, and the pointed ovipositor at the end of her abdomen indicates she is a female.  You may be a Bug Rookie, but you did your research admirably, and your image is spectacular.

Letter 26 – Snakefly

 

Subject: Strang flying bug
Location: Northern California
May 15, 2016 4:12 pm
Hit bugman. I’m a tree worker in Paradise, California and have recently came across this strange flying bug on the job a few times. I first saw it when my coworker got stung on his chest after the bug flew up his shirt. The next day I found the same bug flying across the job and it almost looked like a cross between a wasp and a praying mantis. I was able to snap these pictures before it flew away. If you can identify the species if greatly appreciate it!
Signature: -Rob Mahon

Snakefly
Snakefly

Dear Rob,
This is a female Snakefly in the order Raphidioptera, and to the best of our knowledge, they do not sting.  According to BugGuide:  “Although adult females appear to have a long ‘stinger’, snakeflies do not sting and are harmless to humans. In fact, they are thought to be beneficial as predators of forest pests.”  What appears to be a stinger is actually the ovipositor used to lay eggs.

Letter 27 – Snakefly

 

Subject: Creepy Bug
Location: Lake Oswego, OR
May 17, 2016 2:27 pm
Hello!
This little guy greeted me outside my car window today. Just wondering if its poisonous or I need to worry. This is the first time I have seen it. Thanks!
Signature: Thank you

Snakefly
Snakefly

This is a harmless male Snakefly.  We get numerous identification requests of female Snakeflies as the stingerlike ovipositor makes many folks nervous, though like her mate, the female Snakefly is also perfectly harmless.  They are predators that feed on small insects like Aphids.

Letter 28 – Snakefly

 

Subject: Long bug with clear wings
Location: San Mateo CA
April 30, 2017 9:29 am
This bug was on our bathroom mirror this week. We have never seen such a bug. When I googled it, I get Mayfly or snake fly. We would like your expert clarification please. We are on the San Francisco Peninsula.
Thank you!
Signature: Curious

Snakefly

Dear Curious,
This is an awesome image of a Snakefly in the order Raphidioptera.  According to BugGuide:  “Both larvae and adults are predatory, though they are capable of catching and killing only small and weak prey. Snakefly larvae feed on eggs and larvae of various insects, as well as adults of minute arthropods (e.g. mites, springtails, barklice, and homopterans). Adults typically prefer aphids but may eat a wide variety of arthropods. Adults take efforts to clean themselves after feeding.”

Hi Daniel,
Thank you! Wow… so cool! I asked all my local friends who grew up here and no one knew. Now we do thanks to you!
Much appreciated.

Letter 29 – Snakefly

 

Subject:  long necked termite?
Geographic location of the bug:  Chatsworth, California
Date: 03/07/2018
Time: 04:24 PM EDT
Your letter to the bugman:  Found this guy on our screen this morning. Looks like an alien termite to me! I’ve never seen anything like it before. Thank you for the help! 🙂
How you want your letter signed:  KC

Snakefly

Dear KC,
Though it resembles a Termite, you encountered a beneficial, predatory Snakefly in the order Raphidioptera.

Thank you so much! You’re awesome! 🙂
Kendall Clark

Letter 30 – Snakefly

 

Subject:  Please identify this pretty bug
Geographic location of the bug:  Sisters, Oregon USA
Date: 07/15/2018
Time: 10:15 PM EDT
Your letter to the bugman:  This beautiful bug caught my attention because it resembles a dinosaur and seemed to calmly interact with me while I took pictures. Pictures taken today July 15th 2018 at 7pm. Thank you for your time.
How you want your letter signed:  Starla Kay Lajko

Snakefly

Dear Starla,
This primitive looking insect is a Snakefly in the order Raphidioptera.  According to BugGuide:  “Both larvae and adults are predatory, though they are capable of catching and killing only small and weak prey. Snakefly larvae feed on eggs and larvae of various insects, as well as adults of minute arthropods (e.g. mites, springtails, barklice, and homopterans). Adults typically prefer aphids but may eat a wide variety of arthropods. Adults take efforts to clean themselves after feeding. “

Letter 31 – Snakefly

 

Subject:  Bug Identification
Geographic location of the bug:  Ashland, Oregon
Date: 06/28/2021
Time: 06:03 PM EDT
Your letter to the bugman:  This was on a lavender plant in our yard on June 26th. I am wondering if it’s a member of the antlion group of insects – and specifically what species it is. Thanks for your time!
How you want your letter signed:  Roxanna

Snakefly

Dear Roxanna,
This is a beneficial, predatory Snakefly in the order Raphidioptera.  Your image is quite nice, so much so that we would call it a portrait of this Snakefly.

Letter 32 – Square Headed Snakefly

 

Subject: Flying ant with Stinger?
Location: Lakewood Washington 98499
May 27, 2012 12:25 pm
I live in Washington State, Lakewood to be precise. I discovered these yesterday flying around my front door. This one has what looks like a stinger, and the other two had no ”stinger.”
Signature: Scott

Square Headed Snakefly

Dear Scott,
While we knew immediately that this was a female Snakefly in the order Raphidioptera, it looked different, so we checked BugGuide where we learned it is a Square Headed Snakefly in the genus
Negha.  The “stinger” is the egg laying organ of the female and it is known as an ovipositor.

Letter 33 – Square Headed Snakefly

 

Subject: long and skinny with aft spike
Location: San Francisco peninsula, California
March 19, 2016 5:02 pm
This fellow was resting on a west-facing screen door late afternoon yesterday, Mar. 18, 2016, in thevon the San Francisco peninsula. Maybe an inch long. Seemed lethargic.
Signature: cwr

Square Headed Snakefly
Square Headed Snakefly

Dear cwr,
We believe that based on this BugGuide image, your Snakefly is a Square Headed Snakefly in the genus
Negha.  The “aft spike” is an ovipositor, indicating this is a female.

Letter 34 – Square Headed Snakefly

 

Subjec:  Winged Incect
Geographic location of the bug:  Mt Baldy, Ca
Date: 05/05/2019
Time: 11:43 AM EDT
Your letter to the bugman:  Hi, this website is so cool, anyways had this guy land on me on a hike, never seen him before. No clue what it might be
How you want your letter signed:  Ya boi

Square Headed Snakefly

Dear Ya boi,
Thanks for the compliment.  This is a very exciting posting for us.  Though we immediately recognized this as a Snakefly in the insect order Raphidioptera, we also recognized that is was different from other Snakeflies on our site.  We identified it as a Square Headed Snakefly in the genus
Negha on BugGuide.  According to BugGuide:  “This is the only genus within the family Inocceliidae in North America.”  This is also the first posting on our site of a Square Headed Snakefly.

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.

    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

37 thoughts on “Snakefly – All You Need to Know”

  1. I’m fairly certain the bee is a female Anthophora, or digger bee. You can tell it’s not a leafcutter from the scopa (pollen collecting hairs) on the bee’s legs. Leafcutters have scopa on the undersides of their abdomens. Also, it’s a bit difficult to tell, but the wing venation seems to agree with a digger bee as well. Lovely photo, the snakefly is great!

    Reply
  2. Bulls#!t! I had a robe on today & I could feel something biting me or should I say pinching me. I had to google this insect & it definitely was a Snakefly! I had never seen or heard of a snakefly before. I felt it crawling down my back & it bit me 2-3 times! It wasn’t even an adult snakefly yet. They are quite odd looking alien-looking snakeflies!
    Ed. Note: Edited for content.

    Reply
  3. They don’t sting but I do believe they chomp you with that claw like mouth for sure. Was walking outside today and felt a biting sensation on my leg. Looked down and found one of these little guys knawing on my thigh! It left a bit of a mark but nothing permanent.

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  4. A very large one got on my husband’s back tonight and when it got up to his head he tried to remove it and was pinched so badly it drew blood in 2 places. Really bleeding from it!

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  5. We have a snakefly problem at my work. ( lots of other dead insects for them to munch on as it’s all large windows. After years of no issue I was bit three times in succession by one insect. My coworker pinched it off of me and I was bleeding. I know my snakefly and this one must be part vampire.

    Reply
  6. These things have been attacking me at my house for a couple years now. Never seen one before then one flew on my arm and I was thinking wow your a new one. It took a look at me and bit the crap out of my arm. Ever since then every summer they have been coming out in swarms and attacking me between my shop and house. I usually don’t kill insects but these things are a menace and if I didn’t swat them off of me my place would be unlivable. Two of them just flew through my shop while I’m writing this. People say they are beneficial and that’s probably true but these things attack and bite people.

    Reply
    • OH My Gosh You 2?? I Have been through 3 years Of “The Most Intense Bug Biting Recovery & Counselling the State of Oregon has to Offer”, do to this Insect and its invasion of Southern Oregon. 🙁 I Built my dream house right outside of town afew miles. We have beautiful Old Growth trees and Ferns everywhere. “Self Designed Dream House”, after 2 years of no BUGS, it all started? Like someone is playing a sick Joke? I’ve lived here my Whole Life never seen one of these until I build “MY DREAM HOUSE”. I know I sound like I am just complaining. I just want to know how you guys got through this? I have to wear a BEE SUITE At My Brand New CUSTOM HOME. Not Funny at all, I’m Crying Now, A Nightmare. I Ended up being Highly Allergic. I now travel the world talking and giving speeches on these devil Insects. My Councilor says its great for me to wright about my feelings!! Hope this helps someone. Have any questions just ask. In SnakeFly We Trust!

      Reply
  7. Oddly enough my mother and sister who hate carpenter ants and lace flies, love these snake flies. I’ve handled all these and the snake fly is the only one I’ve held that was constantly bitting me (didn’t break skin). Obviously not venomous. Seems likes it’s tasting everything.

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    • To add – I’m on the west coast. I imagine if this fly was bigger and behaved the way it does…can easily be an annoyance

      Reply
  8. They surely do bite. One chomped onto my friend’s bare arm just this evening; we picked it off and got a very good look. It was definitely a female snakefly and it was aggressive, because it kept trying to bite again.

    Reply
  9. I live in Cottage Grove, Oregon. Over the last 20 years I have had several encounters with what appears to be the larva(no wings). I have a deck with large for trees over it. Each time has been during or soon after I water the plants. Last night I had one on my chest. Feels like bee stings-got me four times on upper chest before it fell into my bra for one more hit. I would LOVE input. This is the first time I’ve seen anything like it. Nobody else seems to have had problems but me..

    Reply
    • Northern California here; and yes, they DO bite. Often repeatedly, and it hurts. Yes, yes, I know they’re not supposed to be able to, but they do. Remember that bumblebees aren’t supposed to be able to fly, either–but they do. And yes, Bugman; these ARE Snakeflies. Clearly, other people have had the same experience. I would be very interested to learn why they do this.

      Reply
  10. This thing in larvae form crawled out of my pants after I got twelve itchy bites in one area on my leg. I did tons of googling and I know it was the snake fly larvae it looked exactly like it mouth pincers and all. People keep publishing they don’t really bite and people keep commenting they do so either they have a biting twin or the information is just off. Maybe they only bite if they accidentally get in your clothes but I think I’m allergic to them.

    Reply
  11. People say assassin bugs don’t bite humans too but MAN it’s like being kicked by a mule. The fact that it is a predator means it sure CAN bite! And like the above person, I think I’m allergic. Hate to do it but SQUISH.

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  12. I got bit three times this morning. We live in western Nevada, 15 miles from Lake Tahoe. YES it hurt. Result? It got squished!

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  13. I agree with everyone in here. They for sure bite!! Not just a bite either they tear your skin and keep going. They are viciois and it makes me mad that all info on them that I read says they dont bite. But so many people have expeeienced bad bites from them. Time to update into on these.

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  14. I handled a female a couple of days ago, no bites. There are many different species of snakeflies, perhaps some are less friendly than others. I’m glad I found a friendly.

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  15. My 10yr old son was bitten by one today 4/5 times on his big toe while Sitting in the yard. We live in Portland Or.

    He first said ouch I just got stung very loudly and just froze stiff (he has never been stung before). While I was walking towards his to see, he yelled out again and started crying. He yelled ouch a couple more times and when I finally got to him, the snake fly was still on his toe and I could see it latched on to him. I quickly brushed it off his toes and googled what the heck it was. It was 100% a snake fly…that’s what got me here.

    Reply
  16. My 10yr old son was bitten by one today 4/5 times on his big toe while Sitting in the yard. We live in Portland Or.

    He first said ouch I just got stung very loudly and just froze stiff (he has never been stung before). While I was walking towards his to see, he yelled out again and started crying. He yelled ouch a couple more times and when I finally got to him, the snake fly was still on his toe and I could see it latched on to him. I quickly brushed it off his toes and googled what the heck it was. It was 100% a snake fly…that’s what got me here.

    Reply
  17. The published sources say that they’ve been here for 50 million years and that they’re totally harmless and, in fact, a gift from god to have around.
    Everyone I know who’s seen one has been bit, stung or cut by these things.
    (The long, thin cut was very strange indeed.)
    I have been bitten by them for sure.
    (Just now, in fact.)
    Furthermore, no one I know saw them before 2000 and some didn’t see them until more recent than that and many of these people spend their whole lives outside and identify species for fun.
    It seems that there is more to learn about these things, good news for anyone who enjoys studying insects.

    Reply
  18. The published sources say that they’ve been here for 50 million years and that they’re totally harmless and, in fact, a gift from god to have around.
    Everyone I know who’s seen one has been bit, stung or cut by these things.
    (The long, thin cut was very strange indeed.)
    I have been bitten by them for sure.
    (Just now, in fact.)
    Furthermore, no one I know saw them before 2000 and some didn’t see them until more recent than that and many of these people spend their whole lives outside and identify species for fun.
    It seems that there is more to learn about these things, good news for anyone who enjoys studying insects.

    Reply
  19. Can confirm these bite. I just felt something chomping away at my wrist, looked down, and saw this guy gnawing away at my flesh. Seemed like it was just determining whether or not it could make a meal of me. Only mildly painful, more like scratching. I tapped its head, and it stopped for a moment, swung its head back and forth to look around, and then immediately slammed its face back down into my wrist and started chomping like someone at a pie-eating contest.

    Reply
  20. They do bite! I just had one biting my hand. I knocked it away and it went onto a plate. I have never seen one and was examining it with a fork, and it started biting the fork. It was as agressive as a hornet.

    Reply
  21. I wonder if they’re getting more aggressive or more common or if a specific variety of them that is aggressive has been spreading.

    Reply
  22. While camping in Bend, Oregon a snake fly bit me 3 times on my back. It felt like a bite/sting that was very painful. It has been over 2 months since I was “attacked” but my back still feels itchy and tender where I was stung. I recently went to an urgent care and was given a steroid cream to apply to the area for 2 weeks. The doctor saw no marks on my back. After 2 weeks of steroid treatment the spot still itches and is tender and slightly numb to the touch. Is anyone else feeling these side effects from their bites?

    Reply
  23. Found a larva out on the front porch today in Portland Oregon. Definitely could tell it hasn’t changed much over time because of the prehistoric look it had. They must be growing I. Population because there wasn’t any hesitation when using Google lens to identify it. There were tons of pictures on the landing page as well. Two prehistoric species I’ve found here at the same house within a couple weeks I had never seen before. The other was a silver fish. The snake fly shares the same armor plated segments and also was extremely quick like the fish. I don’t know if I’ve become more observant of my surroundings or there is an influx of prehistoric bugs about. I have a picture of it and a video I hope to share.

    Reply

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