Snow flies, belonging to the insect genus Chionea, are fascinating creatures adapted for cold environments. They are flightless flies found across the northern hemisphere, with collection records from various countries like the USA, Canada, Europe, Russia, Japan, and Korea snow fly basics. Commonly spotted in montane, forested habitats on snow or in cave systems, these insects are often mistaken for crane flies due to their similar appearance.
In order to identify snow flies, you can look for certain unique characteristics. For instance, unlike crane flies, they lack wings and are only able to crawl on the surface of snow. As you explore their world, you may come across videos or pictures of these intriguing creatures showcasing their distinctive features and habits.
By understanding the basic information about snow flies, you can appreciate these little-known insects and their role in the natural world. So next time you see a wingless bug crawling on snow, remember that it could be the incredible snow fly, Chionea, and not just your typical crane fly.
What Are Snowflies
Snowflies, scientifically known as Chionea, are a genus of insects belonging to the family Limoniidae. These fascinating creatures are primarily found in cold environments such as montane, forested habitats on snow or in cave systems across the USA, Canada, Europe, Russia, Japan, and Korea. The Chionea Sp is adapted to thrive in these chilly conditions.
In comparison to their relatives, the crane flies, snowflies have distinct features that differentiate them. Some differences between snowflies and crane flies include:
- Body size: Snowflies are typically smaller than crane flies
- Wings: Snowflies are wingless, while crane flies have fully developed wings
- Habitat: Snowflies are adapted to cold environments, while crane flies are found in a variety of habitats
Wingless Flightless Flies
Unlike many other insects, snowflies are flightless flies. They lack wings, which is a unique trait among the Diptera, the order of insects that also includes house flies and mosquitoes. Instead of flying, snowflies rely on their strong legs to move in their snowy environments.
To help them navigate their surroundings, these insects are equipped with long antennae. This feature is particularly useful because snowflies are often found on the surface of the snow, where they look for food and mates. Some people might confuse them with snow fleas, but they are not the same; snow fleas belong to a different order called Collembola.
Remember that snowflies are a unique and intriguing group of insects, adapted to survive in some of the coldest habitats on Earth. Next time you’re exploring a snowy environment, keep an eye out for these interesting creatures hopping around on the snow!
Eggs And Larvae
In the world of snow flies, the lifecycle starts with eggs. Female snow flies lay their eggs around May, when the temperature begins to rise. These eggs typically hatch in September, when the climate is more conducive to the development of snow fly larvae.
As a snow fly larvae, you’ll find yourself living in cold environments, usually in montane or forested habitats on snow or in cave systems, where you will continue to grow and develop. It is during this stage that you are most vulnerable, causing you to be less active to ensure your survival.
Mating and Reproduction
Once the larvae stage comes to an end, it is time for mating and reproduction. Snow flies mate in a very unique way, with the female snow flies attracting potential mates by emitting chemical signals to let them know they are ready for mating.
As a male snow fly, you are responsible for seeking out a suitable female partner, often hovering near her until she is ready to accept your advances. Once she accepts, the mating process begins which can last for just a few seconds or even several minutes.
With the completion of mating, the female snow fly lays her eggs and the cycle starts all over again. By understanding snow flies lifecycle, you can have a better appreciation for this fascinating and lesser-known insect.
Adaption To The Cold
Antifreeze Bodily Fluids
Snow flies, or insects belonging to the Chionea genus, have unique adaptations that enable them to survive in cold environments. One such feature is their antifreeze bodily fluids. Their blood contains glycerol, which acts as an antifreeze compound, preventing ice crystal formation within their internal organs. This ensures their survival even in sub-zero and sub-freezing temperatures.
Another fascinating adaptation snow flies exhibit is self-amputation. If they find themselves trapped in ice or snow, they can deliberately release a part of their body. This strategy allows them to escape potentially life-threatening situations without causing significant harm to their overall well-being. Remember, these insects have evolved to thrive in harsh winter conditions, where snow and ice are prevalent.
In summary, snow flies demonstrate remarkable adaptability to cold climates through their antifreeze bodily fluids and the ability to self-amputate when necessary. These biological strategies enable them to navigate and survive hostile, freezing environments.
Habitats of Snowflies
Snowflies, belonging to the insect genus Chionea, are found primarily in the northern hemisphere. They inhabit regions such as the USA, Canada, Europe, Russia, Japan, and Korea. These flightless flies thrive in cold environments, and you can often find them in montane, forested habitats.
- USA: Forests of North America
- Canada: Mountainous regions
- Europe: Snow-covered areas
- Russia: Boreal forests
- Japan: Forests on the main islands
- Korea: Cold regions and forests
In winter months, snowflies can be found in the subnivean habitats, which are the spaces beneath the snow. When there is fresh powder, they scurry around on the surface and hide under leaf litter, seeking warmth and protection from the cold. Their thoracic cavity is adapted to these cold temperatures, allowing them to take advantage of the insulating properties of the snow.
Some snowflies even like to dwell in small burrows made by rodents, exploring these regions and adapting to the unique environment.
To sum up, snowflies are fascinating creatures that can survive and even thrive in frigid conditions, making their homes across various regions in the northern hemisphere and adapting to the specific habitats they encounter.
Distribution and Populations
In North America, particularly the USA and Canada, snowflies can be found in diverse regions. Their distribution is largely influenced by factors such as wind that carries them to different locations. Examples of North American populations include:
- The eastern United States
- Central and western Canada
These snowflies typically inhabit areas with cold, snowy environments.
In Europe, snowflies are found across various countries. Some notable examples of European populations are:
- Northern Europe, including Scandinavia
- Central Europe, such as Germany
Just like in North America, wind plays a significant role in their distribution. Snowflies prefer cold climates with an abundance of snow.
Snowfly populations in Asia are prevalent in regions such as Russia, Japan, and Korea. Their distribution is often influenced by wind, dispersing them across different areas. Examples of Asian populations include:
- Northern Russia
- Japan’s mountainous regions
- Korean Peninsula
In Asia, snowflies are adapted to cold environments with ample snowfall, similar to their counterparts in Europe and North America.
In all regions, it is crucial to note that the bodily fluids of snowflies can be hazardous. Consequently, it is important to handle them with care to avoid exposure to potential dangers.
Feeding Habits and Predators
Snowflies are fascinating insects, and their feeding habits and predators play a crucial role in their life cycle. In this section, we’ll discuss these aspects briefly.
Snowflies primarily feed on various organic materials, such as dead leaves and decaying plants. They also consume protozoa, nematodes, and other small organisms. Some common predators of snowflies include mice and certain species of fleas. It’s essential to be aware of these predators, as they can significantly impact the snowfly population.
The relationship between snowflies and their predators often involves a complex food chain. For example, snowflies may consume nematodes, which in turn feed on bacteria and fungus. Meanwhile, mice may prey on snowflies, and tapeworms can infest mice as parasites.
Here’s a comparison table to help you understand these interactions better:
|Example of Interaction
|Snowflies are eaten by mice and fleas.
|Prey (for Snowflies), Predator (for bacteria/fungus)
|Snowflies eat nematodes; nematodes feed on bacteria/fungus.
|Mice hunt for snowflies and eat them.
|Fleas may feed on snowflies.
|Tapeworms can infest mice, causing health issues.
In summary, snowflies’ feeding habits and predators highlight the interconnected nature of their ecosystem. Understanding these relationships can help you better appreciate these small yet essential creatures in our environment.
Snowflies in Popular Culture and Media
Snowflies, belonging to the insect genus Chionea, are known for their unique adaptations to cold environments. They make for an interesting study in the context of natural history, ecology, and even media. Here, we will explore how these fascinating creatures feature in popular culture and media.
Snowflies are often depicted as having long legs and a peculiar walking style. This is due to their limoniid nature, which requires them to traverse snowy terrains. As you may have guessed, their long legs come in handy when walking on snow. Additionally, snowflies have a proboscis, a tube-like mouthpart used for feeding. This unique feature further sets them apart from other insects.
In popular media, snowflies are sometimes portrayed using thermal imaging technology. The use of thermal imaging helps emphasize their ability to thrive in cold environments. This ability is tightly linked to their natural history and ecology, which is primarily centered around montane, forested habitats.
Here, let’s list some characteristics of snowflies:
- Belong to the insect genus Chionea
- Adapted for cold environments
- Long legs for walking on snow
- Proboscis for feeding
- Featured in thermal imaging in media
While not commonly found in mainstream movies or TV shows, snowflies may appear in documentaries or articles dedicated to the study of insects and their adaptations. The brains of these creatures also serve as a point of fascination, as researchers try to understand how they can survive and function in extreme cold conditions.
In conclusion, snowflies offer a unique insight into the complex world of insect adaptations and serve as a fascinating subject for those exploring popular culture, media, and scientific research.
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 – Snowflies
Bugs seen only in Winter snow
My son is very interested in identifying a bug that we see each winter in the snow. I have attached two pictures – one against a ruler. The insect has 6 legs, two long antenna and two things off the back (two tails?). It’s approx. 1/2 inch in length. Please help!
Thanks – Kevin and Stephen Crowley
We are always very excited to get new species for our site, but even more excited to get new families. This is a type of Stonefly, Order Plecoptera, known as the Snowfly or Winter Stonefly, Family Capniidae, probably the genus Allocapnia. We located photos on Bugguide, but there wasn’t much information, so we decided to search further. Sadly our search was in vain as there seem to be photos and maps, but not much in the way of text. If you find any additional links, perhaps you can contact us with the information.
I found a website with some further information on stoneflies. I hope this helps.
Letter 2 – Small Winter Stonefly or Snowfly: A Good Sign
What kind of bug?
December 15, 2009
These bugs are hanging around our doorways, usually on the porch ceiling and they drop down on you when you walk outside. They are even out when the temp goes below freezing. They started about the first of November and are still here. What are they and how do I get rid of them? Thanks,
We are very excited to receive your letter, and we think it may make an excellent candidate for our Bug of the Month for January. This is a Small Winter Stonefly in the family Capniidae, commonly called a Snowfly. According to BugGuide, the “family is distributed throughout much of North America but many species have restricted geographic ranges, and are endemic to relatively small areas” so we are reluctant to try to identify the species, or even the genus. It may also be a Winter Stonefly in the family Taeniopterygidae, also called a Snowfly and also depicted on BugGuide. We will contact Eric Eaton to see if he can be more specific. BugGuide also indicates: “The defining need of winter stonefly nymphs is for very high levels of oxygen in the water. Warm temperatures, excessive organic matter, and many pollutants all reduce oxygen levels. The result: they’re only active in the coldest part of the year and are very sensitive to pollution. Their main interest to humans is as an indicator species: you can tell that water is unpolluted if stoneflies live there. They also provide food for trout – though not as much as species active when trout are themselves more active in warmer parts of the year.”
Confirmation from Eric Eaton
You are correct with the family, Capniidae, known as “small winter stoneflies.” The genus is probably Allocapnia, but I am not an expert in aquatic insects and can’t be totally certain. The presence of large numbers of these should be taken as a “good” sign!
Letter 3 – Snowfly: A Winter Stonefly and a request from the Xerces Society
F.Y.I. – StoneFly
March 2, 2010
With the help of your site there is no doubt that what we came across is the StoneFly. This is just additional comments if anyone is interested. While hiking on Feb 28, 2010 with temperatures of about +2 celcius we saw hundreds (or thousands) of these insects slowly crawling across the top of the snow ALL in the same direction (maybe toward the river or bush, which were both in that direction). If we stood still for a few seconds the bugs closest would almost always turn toward us (eek!). We thought maybe they were young Earwigs and it might be a sign of an infestation for the summer but it is nice to see that is not the case. We were very surprised to see any bugs at all!
Thanks for your excellent site!
Southern Ontario, Canada (about 25km n/w of Toronto along the Humber river)
Thanks for your wonderful observations of the behavior of the Snowfly, a species of Winter Stonefly. Can you recall if the alignment had anything to do with the sun or with the wind? For Americans that might be celcius challenged, +2 translates to about 35 degrees Fahrenheit. Thanks so much for including the terrain where the sighting occurred. We are happy to see that there was an instant hit to our Bug of the Month posting for March.
It was very overcast for the entire day so that you couldn’t even tell in which direction the sun was. There was no discernable breeze but the flies would have been headed directly into the slight breeze that there was. To me it doesn’t seem like it was either of those factors that effected their direction though.
There would have been 2-3 acres of the flies fairly evenly dispersed and I would say that every one of the flies was headed the same direction. There are a few photos and you can see in the photos with more than one fly that they are all facing the same direction. In their tiny little insect minds it seemed that they knew exactly where they were going….
Request from the Xerces Society
Permission to Use Photo
Hi there; I am conservation biologist with the Xerces Society (www.xerces.org) currently writing an Endangered Species Act (ESA) petition to list a couple of rare, endemic, and highly threatened Idaho snowflies (family: Capniidae). I am inquiring after permission to potentially use a photo that a user submitted on your site. Do you have contact information for all of your users? The photo of interest is at this url: 2010/03/02/snowfly-a-winter-stonefly-2/. Posted just yesterday. The photo would be credited, of course.
Here at What’s That Bug? we reserve the right to grant permission to nonprofit education ventures to use images posted to our site, often because the requests are made years after the photos were submitted and we cannot contact the photographer. In this case, Dan’s email address was still handy, and he can respond directly to you if he would like to grant permission.
Yes, I do give permission to use these photos. If you do use the photo(s) and your report will be accessible to the public I wouldn’t mind knowing how to take a look at it when complete. I have been trying to inspire a teenage niece and nephew to have an interest in photography (I believe an enthusiasm for photography enhances your appreciation for everything you see whether photography related or not) and they may be impressed to see what interesting things can develop. Don’t worry if you forget to inform us when the time comes. It is not terribly important.
I have attached the highest resolution photo of the fly. There are 5 or 6 other photos of groups of flies on the snow if they could be of any use. Let me know if you would like a copy of them.
If these flies are rare enough that there should be some effort to preserve their environment then let me know and I will forward the info to conservation groups here.
It is nice to see that my photos might be of some use!
Good luck with your efforts!
Dear Sarah and Dan,
I am glad to see that we have come to a collaborative agreement in this matter. Often preservation of a single humble species is imperative for the preservation of an entire ecosystem.
Thank you, Dan.
Yes, I will email you the petition when complete.
For the time being, do introduce your niece and nephew to our website,
www.xerces.org, which features many fantastic photos as well as lots of really good, free invertebrate conservation resources.
The “store” has some cool kids books for sale, too, if you are interested.
Since your species is unidentified, I have no idea about its rarity. Many snowfly species are weak flyers (hence the walking you observed?) and are highly endemic (e.g. confined to single stream or small cluster of sites). They are also generally very sensitive to pollutants and have very narrow habitat requirements (e.g. cold water, high dissolved oxygen, pebble-gravel substrate, etc.). In fact, stoneflies are considered to be one of the most sensitive indicators of water quality in streams and are frequently used as sentinel organisms in biomonitoring, as they are among the first macroinvertebrates to disappear from systems impacted by physical habitat degradation and thermal and chemical pollution.
Re: your species, I would start by looking on NatureServe (or whatever local Conservation Resources you have) to see if there are any snowfly species in your area that people have already flagged as sensitive. If so, you could do your best at further ID, or follow through with them to see what they think. I might have a chance to look into this a little bit, too, in the coming month or so. Right now I’m rushing to get this petition out in time, or I would do more.
Thanks so much,
I’m really quite envious of your sighting!
Hi again Dan (White),
Sorry, I missed the part about you having photos of multiple stoneflies together.
Yes, those would be really cool to see if you get a chance!
I’m curious about their density while walking, etc.
UPDATE: June 22, 2010
just wanted to let you know that we filed the petition for Capnia lineata and zukeli—
It is currently available on the home page of our website (www.xerces.org ), a few items down…
Thanks again for the use of your photo!
It looks great!
Letter 4 – Snowflies: AKA Winter Stoneflies
Subject: Bugs in snow (not fleas)
Location: Southeast Michigan
February 5, 2017 5:46 pm
Hi, we have swarms of these bugs in the snow around our house. My kids and I have scoured the internet, but we can’t find any information to identify them. My kids were so excited to have of our pictures featured on your site years ago when they were little of a cicada killer. Please help us again!! Thank you!
Signature: Lundy family
Dear Lundy Family,
We are thrilled to post your image of a Snowfly or Small Winter Stonefly in the family Capniidae, the first of the season, though we did just create our Snow Bugs tag for creatures active in winter months. According to BugGuide: “adults often seen on snow, or resting on concrete bridges over streams.” We suspect you are not in an industrial part of Michigan because Stonefly larvae are aquatic and they are generally only found in moving water like streams that are not polluted.
Cool, we are in the country, and have a large creek flowing through our property. Thanks!
Letter 5 – Snowfly, AKA Small Winter Stonefly
Subject: what is it??
Location: central Pennsylvania
February 10, 2013 4:52 pm
Hey bugman 🙂 today my husband nd i decided to take our four year old or a walk around the reservoir. Its early February in were in central Pennsylvania. We came across this bug just walking around in the snow. We would love to know what it is! Can you help?
There are a few insects found in the winter on the snow that are commonly called Snowflies, and this is one of them. This is a Small Winter Stonefly in the family Capniidae. Their presence near your reservoir is an indication that the water quality is quite pure as they cannot survive in polluted waters.
Thank you so much! We’re happy to have these little guys around if it means we have clean water! Its interesting how they survive in such cold conditions!
Letter 6 – Winter Crane Fly
Subject: Winged insect above snow in mid-February in NH
Location: New London, NH
February 22, 2014 1:51 pm
We were snowshoeing on a trail in New London, NH, on 22 Feb 2014 when we came upon a small swarm of this insect, about a foot above the snow (three feet of snow pack). It wad the warmest day in months, about 44F. As we watched them, they all settled onto the snow and I took a few pictures of one.
Signature: M Wms.
Dear M Wms.
This appears to be some species of fly with two wings, and it resembles a Crane Fly, and there is a genus of Crane Flies found in the snow known as Snow Flies, but they are wingless. We also located and extensive page on Hiking With Chuck that has images that look identical to your fly, and interestingly, they were taken in Arethusa Falls as well as Mine Falls Park in New Hampshire. All the photos are dated 2007. We have tried contacting Chen Young and Eric Eaton to see if they have any ideas.
Thank you. “Naturalist Guy” Kenneth Barnett (on Facebook) said it was a snow fly, but this one definitely had wings and they are functional. I’m inclined to think Chuck is right and it’s a winter crane fly. Bug Guide (http://bugguide.net/node/view/8522) photos of the winter crane flies look right, too.
I appreciate your contacting Eric (whom I’ve contacted before about some bugs) and Chen Young; let me know if you learn any more.
~ Molly Williams
Thanks so much for providing the BugGuide link. The Winter Crane Flies in the family Trichoceridae, not to be confused with the wingless Crane Flies known as Snow Flies in the genus Chionea, look correct to us. Both are contained in the infraorder Tipulomorpha along with other Crane Flies. We will let you know if we hear back from Eric or Chen.
Dr. Chen Young confirms identity of Winter Crane Fly
A winter crane fly of the family Trichoceridae.
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Letter 7 – A Snowfly, and some unrelated Cocoons
fly emerging in winter?
March 2, 2010
hi – my girls and i found the cocoons in the first picture hanging on a guardrail next to the river. the second picture shows the insect we found (we found many) near the cocoons. we also saw them roaming around in the snow. these photos were taken in February, in SE Ohio.
Thank you! Debra
SE Ohio, North America
The cocoons you found are unrelated to the Snowfly, a Winter Stonefly. We made the Snowfly our featured Bug of the Month this month, and your query is the third we have received in the past few days picturing this interesting creature that is often found in great numbers atop the snow. The Fish BC Entomology page, that is devoted to insects used by anglers to catch fish, clarifies why the Cocoons you found in the vicinity are unrelated. Stoneflies undergo incomplete metamorphosis, and they transform from aquatic nymphs to adults without a pupal form. We believe the Cocoon are most likely Bagworms.
thank you….i did find that – for some reason my search took me to your “submit” page and i just went with it!! sorry for taking your time, but thanks for the information.
No Problem. Your letter is great because we like our readership to know that many insects can be found during the winter.
Species Identification thanks to Eric Eaton
March 17, 2010
The March 2 “Snowfly,” which was posted with a “Snow Flea” is actually a rolled-winged stonefly in the family Leuctridae. That post was from southeast Ohio.
Otherwise, terrific work!
Letter 8 – Winter Stonefly or Snowfly
Attached is a picture of a bug that we are seeing on wintery sunny days on the outside and a few inside our house. It has wings, but does not fly. We live in a woody area in CT. We have also have had an increase of ladybugs and houseflies recently. Thank you
This is a Winter Stonefly in the family Capniidae. According to BugGuide there are 151 [identified] species in North America in 10 genera, and the: “family is distributed throughout much of North America but many species have restricted geographic ranges, and are endemic to relatively small areas.” They are also called Snowflies.
Letter 9 – Winter Stonefly or Snowfly
Late winter bug… another snowfly?
March 21, 2010
Hello! This photo was taken today (21 Mar 10) inside my house. We are right above the Petawawa River. These bugs take over the outside of my house around this time each year, covering the front and back doors, and eventually make their way inside. The one photographed is only about 1 cm long, but the fully grown ones are brown and can be about 3 cm (1″) long with wings on their backs. The small ones don’t really fly (“fall with style” maybe) but the bigger ones flutter around a little bit.
Thank you so much! My neighbour and I have been going crazy trying to figure out who these visitors are each year.
Thanks for sending in another photo of our Bug of the Month for March, the Winter Stonefly or Snowfly.
Letter 10 – Snowfly: A Winter Stonefly
what’s this bug?
We were interested to see a couple of this bug crawling on top of the snow on March 15 near Niagara Falls Ontario in a provincial park where there are horseback riders and dog walkers. Is it a common insect?
Winter Stoneflies, known as Snowflies, are not rare, but are very seasonal. They are one of the few insects that are active when there is still snow on the ground.
Letter 11 – Snowfly
Thanks again for the help with the Passionvine Hopper nymph last year. I have another mystery. Attached image is of an insect found while trekking on top of the Perito Moreno Glacier, Patagonia, Argentina. Length about 3/4 inch. Our guide told us these were discovered on the glacier, but he did not know a name for them. Searched your site of course, but the only thing with a similar structure was a Timema. I have read that sprintails have been known to live on glaciers as well, but they are much smaller to my knowledge. Sorry for the poor image. Had to shoot handheld without my tripod, and the little guy was moving. Kind regards,
This looks like a Snowfly, a group of Stoneflies in the family Capniidae, the Small Winter Snowflies. Some are winged and some are not.
Letter 12 – Snowflies: Small Winter Stoneflies found in the snow!!!
Subject: what is it?
Location: northampton ma
February 11, 2013 9:15 am
Several of these were walking on top of a snowdrift in central-western Massachusetts after the blizzard 02/10/2013. They were about an eighth of an inch long at most. I didn’t realize that bugs could live outside in the winter. Maybe their nest was disturbed by the snow breaking off dead tree limbs or something like that.
PS: They look a lot like the bug drawing on your website here!
Not many insects are found in the snow, but these Small Winter Stoneflies which are also known as Snowflies are frequently found on the surface of the snow. The drawing you refer to is actually an Earwig.
Letter 13 – Snowfly is a Wingless Winter Crane Fly
Subject: Bug on snowy mountain in NH
Location: New Hampshire USA
March 3, 2013 9:13 pm
Hello – I spotted this insect last weekend while back country skiing near Jackson NH in the white mountains, elevation 2200 feet. It was walking around on the snow. I was surprised to see an insect active this time of year but perhaps it is common.
This is an exciting posting for us. There are several unrelated insects commonly found on the surface of the snow that are lumped together under the common name Snowflies. This Wingless Winter Crane Fly, most likely in the genus Chionea, is a true fly, albeit without wings. More photos and information can be found at The Backyard Arthropod Project and The Crane Flies of Pennsylvania. Adaptation to life on the surface of the snow is not very common with insects and arthropods, so we are always excited to post new documentation.
Thanks Daniel. Let me know if you need any more information about this bug.
Letter 14 – Snowfly, we believe
Subject: Insect ID
Geographic location of the bug: Marseilles, IL, USA
Time: 02:06 PM EDT
Your letter to the bugman: I have tried several online insect identification keys to no avail. It kind of looks like a diplura or a grylloblattodea or a collembola but it doesn’t seem to exactly match up with any of the three because of its black color. What do you think it is?
How you want your letter signed: Kevin
This looks to us like a Winter Stonefly, and because they are frequently found with snow on the ground, they are sometimes called Snowflies.