Snipe Fly: All You Need to Know in a Nutshell

Snipe flies, specifically the golden-backed snipe fly (Chrysopilus thoracicus), are fascinating insects that can be found in the eastern parts of North America. You may encounter these creatures resting on low vegetation in deciduous woodlands during late spring and early summer. Recognizable by their striking gold thorax and bluish-black body, these flies display a unique beauty.

In your outdoor explorations, keep an eye out for snipe flies as they tend to be no higher than two feet off the ground. Due to their diet consisting of other insects, they play an essential role in regulating insect populations in their habitats. While observing snipe flies, you might also get an opportunity to witness their mating rituals, which occurs during late May and early June.

As you read on about snipe flies, remember that understanding these insects contributes to a broader knowledge of the natural world around us. By learning more about their life cycle, behavior, and ecological significance, you can fully appreciate these remarkable creatures and how they fit into the intricate web of life

Understanding Snipe Flies

Snipe flies, belonging to the family Rhagionidae, are an interesting group of insects within the order Diptera. They come in various shapes and sizes, with some species characterized by their stunning colors and patterns. Here, we’ll briefly discuss some key features of two noteworthy snipe flies: Chrysopilus thoracicus and Symphoromyia. We’ll also touch on identifying snipe flies.

Chrysopilus thoracicus, known as the Golden-backed Snipe Fly, has reflective golden hairs on its thorax, which make it visually striking. Typically, they are 10-12 mm in length and can be found throughout eastern North America. You may find them resting on low vegetation in deciduous woodlands, particularly during late spring and early summer.

Symphoromyia is another fascinating snipe fly genus, also belonging to the Rhagionidae family. These flies may resemble Chrysopilus in their general appearance but differ in some aspects like coloration and habitat preference. They are opportunistic blood-feeders, mainly targeting larger mammals.

To identify snipe flies, consider the following key features:

  • Wings: Clear, with pronounced veins.
  • Coloring: Varies by species, from the golden-backed Chrysopilus to the dark-colored Symphoromyia.
  • Size: Typically 10-12 mm in length.
  • Antennae: Long and slender, with a unique “elbowed” shape.
  • Habitat: Found in various habitats, like woodlands, wetlands, or higher-altitude fields.

In conclusion, snipe flies are a diverse group of insects with fascinating features and behaviors. By paying close attention to their characteristics and habitats, you can improve your identification of these intriguing creatures.

Characteristic Features

Body Structure

The body structure of a snipe fly is quite unique. The most noticeable features include:

  • Long legs: Snipe flies have long, slender legs that help them navigate through vegetation with ease.
  • Rounded head: They have a rounded head, which houses their large, compound eyes.
  • Wings: Snipe flies are equipped with transparent wings, enabling them to take flight when necessary.
  • Proboscis: A long proboscis, a tubular mouthpart, allows them to feed on nectar and other liquid substances.

Color and Appearance

The color and appearance of snipe flies, particularly the golden-backed snipe fly, make them quite distinct from other insects. Some standout characteristics are:

  • Golden hair: The golden-backed snipe fly has a thorax covered in reflective golden hairs, which is why it is referred to as “golden hair.”
  • Thorax color: Besides its golden hair, the thorax of this snipe fly appears strikingly gold as well.
  • Abdomen: The abdomen of the golden-backed snipe fly is bluish-black, providing an appealing contrast to its golden thorax.
  • Size: Both males and females typically reach 10-12 mm in length.
  • Spots: While spots may be present in some other snipe fly species, the golden-backed snipe fly does not have them.

Throughout the life of a snipe fly, you’ll witness different appearances, as they undergo a metamorphosis from larvae to adults. In the end, their unique combination of colors and structures makes them a fascinating insect to observe.

Habitat and Range

Snipe flies thrive in a diverse range of habitats across North America, from the United States to Canada, and even in the United Kingdom. Let’s take a look at some of these specific habitats and how they impact the range of snipe flies.

In woodlands, you’ll find many snipe flies as they prefer areas with both trees and open spaces. These environments offer an abundance of food sources and hiding spots, essential for their survival. Similarly, in grasslands, snipe flies make use of the tall grasses to find shelter and hunt for prey. Wetlands provide a moist and fertile habitat for snipe flies, thanks to the availability of water and food sources.

You may also spot these insects in areas with scrub vegetation, where they can feed on smaller insects among the bushes and low-lying plants. Mossy areas provide a perfect habitat for snipe flies, as it retains moisture and acts as a breeding ground.

Here’s a quick overview of the habitats where snipe flies can be found:

  • Woodlands: Trees and open spaces with abundant food and hiding spots
  • Grasslands: Tall grasses for shelter and hunting
  • Moss: Moist environment for breeding
  • Wetlands: Fertile and diverse habitat with water and food sources
  • Scrub: Bushes and low-lying plants for hunting small prey

So, as you explore nature in North America and the United Kingdom, keep an eye out for snipe flies across these various habitats. Remember, they can adapt to different environments, so you might just find them in unexpected places.

Classification and Family

Snipe flies belong to the family Rhagionidae, which is part of the order Diptera. These insects are classified under the infraorder Tabanomorpha and the suborder Brachycera. They belong to the class Insecta, which means snipe flies are insects. The Rhagionidae family is divided into three main subfamilies: Arthrocerinae, Rhagioninae, and Spaniinae. Some other related families include Austroleptidae and Bolbomyiidae.

You might encounter different snipe flies from the genera Rhagio, Arthroceras, Sierramyia, Litoleptis, Omphalophora, Ptiolina, and Spania. There are various species within these genera, each having their own unique characteristics.

Here are some general features of snipe flies:

  • Mostly medium-sized flies
  • Predatory insects feeding on other smaller insects
  • Often found near water bodies, forests, and meadows
  • Adults have been observed on leaves and stems
  • Some species feed on nectar or are attracted to rotting organic matter

Snipe flies have distinct characteristics:

  • Wing venation is quite noticeable
  • Antennae are usually longer and slender
  • Often covered with hair-like bristles for tactile sensation
  • Some female species have biting mouthparts

To help you understand the differences between subfamilies, let’s look at a comparison table:

Subfamily Characteristics Examples
Arthrocerinae Smaller, delicate flies; elongated body with long legs and wings Arthroceras
Rhagioninae Most common snipe flies; strong build with noticeable wing venation Rhagio
Spaniinae Primarily found in Southern Hemisphere; diverse range of attributes Spania

So there you have it. A brief overview of the classification and family of snipe flies. With this information, you should have a better understanding of these fascinating insects and their place in the world of entomology.

Life Cycle of Snipe Flies

Snipe Fly Larvae

In the world of snipe flies, there are around 15 species that you may come across. These species have unique life cycles that are finely adapted to their environment. As larvae, snipe flies typically live in leaf litter or moist soil. During this stage, they might resemble small maggots as they feed and grow.

From Pupa to Adult

Once the snipe fly larvae have developed enough, they enter the pupal stage. During this time, they transform into their adult form. In early summer or spring, adult snipe flies will emerge from their pupal stage, ready to begin their own reproductive process.

Snipe Fly Season

Snipe flies are most likely to be seen during the warmer months of the year. Specifically, you can expect to encounter them in late spring and early summer. As they thrive in wetland habitats, keep an eye out for them near tall grasses, sedges and thickets.

Feeding Habits and Prey

Snipe flies, belonging to the family Rhagionidae, are fascinating creatures with unique feeding habits. These insects are predominantly predatory and play an important role in controlling various pests. They target a range of prey, including other flies, aphids, and various small insects.

For instance, members of the genus Symphoromyia are known for being ruthless pests of bison during summer months when the animals are most vulnerable. However, it’s worth noting that while some species are known to bite humans, most people encounter snipe flies without experiencing any issues.

When it comes to their diet, Snipe flies focus primarily on other insects as their main food source. Their predatory nature proves to be beneficial in controlling pests within their habitat. Not only do they target nuisance flies, but also help manage the population of aphids that can be detrimental to plants.

You might be interested in the following quick facts about snipe flies:

  • Predatory insects helping to control pests
  • Prey on other flies, aphids, and small insects
  • Harmless to humans in most situations
  • Beneficial to the ecosystem by managing pest populations

In summary, understanding the feeding habits and preferred prey of snipe flies gives insight into their role in the ecosystem. Knowing that these insects are predominantly predators can help us appreciate their contributions to controlling pests and maintaining balance in their habitats.

Role and Impact on Ecosystem

Snipe flies play a crucial role in our ecosystems. As pollinators, they help maintain the health and balance of various plant species, including fruit trees and other flora.

In addition to pollinating plants, these flies also help control unwanted pests. They’re predators to insects like aphids and caterpillars which can damage your plants. This is beneficial for both wildlife and the environment, as it helps to prevent the growth of invasive species and ensures that our fruit trees and plants remain healthy and productive.

Snipe flies are important for the following reasons:

  • They act as pollinators for a variety of plants, including fruit trees.
  • They help control invasive species by preying on harmful insects.

By performing these activities, snipe flies contribute to a healthy ecosystem, which in turn supports a diverse range of plant and animal life. So next time you see a snipe fly buzzing around your garden, remember that it’s a friend to you and your plants!

Snipe Fly Survey and Research

When studying Snipe Flies, the Manual of Nearctic Diptera is an essential resource to start with. It provides detailed information on the taxonomy and biology of these intriguing insects. Phylogeny research can help you understand their evolutionary history and relationships with other Diptera species.

Surveys play an integral role in researching Snipe Flies. You might find helpful guidelines for proper surveying techniques in scientific publications such as Zootaxa. Following these methodologies ensures accurate and reliable data.

When studying Snipe Flies, you may come across their original descriptions by experts like Fabricius. Evaluating these descriptions can give you insights into their anatomical features, classifications, and historical accounts.

Key points to consider during Snipe Fly surveys and research:

  • Refer to established resources like the Manual of Nearctic Diptera
  • Explore phylogeny research to understand evolutionary relationships
  • Adhere to proper surveying methodologies from reputable publications
  • Examine original descriptions by experts like Fabricius for historical context

Remember to maintain a friendly and curious attitude throughout your research. In doing so, you’ll gain valuable insights into the fascinating world of Snipe Flies and contribute to our collective understanding of these unique insects.

Interaction With Humans

Snipe flies are a type of fly that you might encounter outdoors. Although they might look intimidating, they generally do not bite humans. However, some species may bite animals, causing mild irritation.

The down-looker snipe fly is an interesting example. This species has a distinctive feature, as they tend to perch on tree trunks or branches, oriented downwards. This habit earned them their name. You might be wondering if the down-looker snipe fly bites humans, but don’t worry! These flies primarily feed on other insects and are not known to bite people.

In the rare case a snipe fly does bite you, it would likely result in mild pain and possible itchiness. To avoid this, it’s always a good idea to wear protective clothing, such as long sleeves and pants, when outdoors. Additionally, using insect repellent can help deter snipe flies and other biting insects.

In conclusion, snipe flies, including the down-looker fly, mostly don’t pose a risk to humans. Just remember to take precautions when outdoors and continue to enjoy nature.

Reader Emails

Over the years, our website, 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 – Common Snipe Fly


Subject: An Elegant looking fly
Location: Andover, NJ
June 1, 2015 4:50 pm
I spotted this insect which I believe is some sort of fly on my storm door over the weekend. It is near what appears to be an exuvia, perhaps its own? The insect was between 1/2 and 3/4 inch in length with very striking wing patterns. Not a great shot, but hopefully shows enough detail for an ID.
Your help is always most appreciated!
Signature: Deborah E. Bifulco

Snipe Fly
Common Snipe Fly

Dear Deborah,
Flies do not emerge from exuvia, a term that usually applies to the shed skin of a nymph.  The only insects that have wings on the exuvia are Mayflies, which have an initial molt into a winged subadult, quickly followed by a second molt.  Flies emerge from puparia.  We believe what you have mistaken for an exuvia is a dead insect, but we are unsure which insect.  We quickly identified your Common Snipe Fly as
Rhagio mystaceus, which as luck would have it, was one of the first images we found on BugGuide when attempting the identification.  There is no real information on BugGuide, and the information on iNaturalist is limited to the physical description.

Thank you very much for the ID, as well as the great info re the exuvia.  It makes more sense that it is a dead insect, especially with the wings.  I should have known that!

Letter 2 – Female Snipe Fly


Subject:  Scary!
Geographic location of the bug:  Shasta lake CA
Date: 04/30/2019
Time: 12:48 PM EDT
Your letter to the bugman:  Found this scary looking bug on my peppermint plant this morning and I can’t figure out what it is. Please help!
How you want your letter signed:  Perplexed Peppermint

Snipe Fly

Dear Perplexed Peppermint,
We will attempt to identify this Fly for you.

Eric Eaton Responds
One of these, I believe:
Family is Xylophagidae, with no common name in English, naturally….
Lead author, Kaufman Field Guide to Insects of North America

Update:  Frequent WTB? contributor Cesar Crash believes this is a female Snipe Fly in the genus Rhagio which is pictured on BugGuide .

Update from Eric Eaton:
Well, I’ll be….I stand corrected.  It *is* a Rhagio sp.  Did not know they got that large and that “red” in California.
author, Kaufman Field Guide to Insects of North America


Letter 3 – Male Ornate Snipe Fly


Subject:  Ornate Snipe Fly
Geographic location of the bug:  Toledo, Ohio
Date: 06/17/2019
Time: 11:44 AM EDT
Your letter to the bugman:  Hi there! It took me a while to identify this cute fly, and I believe it is a male Ornate Snipe Fly (Chrysopilus ornatus.) I didn’t see any photos of one on your website, so I thought you might enjoy it! Thanks for the amazing website!
How you want your letter signed:  Katy

Ornate Snipe Fly

Thank you Katy,
We are thrilled to post your images of a male Ornate Snipe Fly,
Chrysopilus ornatus.  According to BugGuide, the season for sighting is  “Spring. May-July (North Carolina).”  We already have numerous images in our archive of Golden Backed Snipe Flies that we receive mainly from the midwest in June, and we always love posting images of new species.

Ornate Snipe Fly

Letter 4 – Snipe Fly, We believe


Subject: Unknown fly from western MD
Location: Western Maryland
May 30, 2013 2:36 am
Hi Bugman,
Another query for you. This one I’m fairly sure is a fly, at least. I looked through the fly pages, but couldn’t find anything that looked similar.
Photo was taken 5/26/13 in Swallow Falls State Park in western Maryland, in a forested area about 100 yards away from the river. Subject was about the size of a regular house fly. Apologies for the lack of detail, picture taken with iphone.
Signature: long time reader, first time caller

Snipe Fly
Snipe Fly

Dear long time reader,
We believe this is a Snipe Fly.  You can compare your image to the Common Snipe Fly,
Rhagio mystaceus, photos on BugGuide.  There isn’t much species information posted, but the data page shows most sightings in May and June.  The family page on BugGuide states:  “Both adults and larvae are predaceous on a variety of small insects.”   


  • Bugman

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

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  • Piyushi Dhir

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

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