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Insect Identification Key
Order Raphidioptera: the snakeflies

The long prothorax (green arrow) is characteristic of the snakeflies. The photo shows a female snakefly, which has a long, stinger-like ovipositor. Notice the small dark patch on the edge of its wing. This is the stigma. Depending on the species of snakefly, it may be pale or dark (it is dark in the species shown here). Photo credit: Olaru Andreea.
Click here to see more examples of more snakeflies!

Based on your answers to the questions, you have identified your insect as being in the order Raphidioptera!

Members of this order include: snakeflies.

Etymology: Raphidioptera comes from the Greek raphio, which means needle, and ptera, which means wings. &ldquoNeedle” refers to the very long ovipositor (of egg-laying structure) present in females. The ovipositor extends like a long, thin spear or needle from the tip of the female’s abdomen.

General characteristics:
• two pairs of membranous wings that are similar in size and shape
• the presence of a colored stigma in its forewings (see the photo) — depending on the species, the stigma may be numerous colors ranging from a pale to dark
• a long prothorax, which gives the insect long-“necked” appearance
• long, thin antennae
• females possess a long egg-laying structure, called an ovipositor, that extends like a thin spear from the rear of the abdomen
• large compound eyes, one located on each side of a the head
• somewhat flattened head with chewing mouthparts
• long, slender body
• wings are held roof-like over the body when the insect is at rest
holometabolous metamorphosis (egg — larvapupa — adult)

Click here to see more examples of more snakeflies!

Number of species worldwide: about 260

Basic ecology:
Snakeflies live in forested areas as well as alpine regions with few trees or shrubs. Their distribution is patchy and some species are known from only very small areas. Snakeflies are known only from the Northern Hemisphere. While some live in western North American, no species are yet known east of the Rocky Mountains. Females use their long ovipositors to lay eggs in the bark of trees. The eggs hatch into larvae in a few days to three weeks, and the larvae continue to live under the bark for one to three years until they pupate. Most adults emerge from the pupae in a few days to three weeks, but in some species, pupation may take as much as 10 months. As adults, snakeflies feed on other insects, especially aphids and other members of the suborder Sternorrhyncha.

Kingdom Animalia
   Phylum Arthropoda
      Class Insecta
         Order Raphidioptera

For a list of all of the orders in this key, click here: List of Orders.

Classification note: Snakeflies are not flies. True flies are in the order Diptera.

Oops! If this doesn't appear to be the order for your insect, go back through the key and look more carefully at your insect while answering the questions again. Your perseverance will reward you!

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Photos at the top of this website are (from left to right): potato beetle (Leptinotarsa decemlineata) — photo credit: Scott Bauer, U.S. Department of Agriculture; ebony jewelwing (Calopteryx maculata)— photo credit: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service; sweat bee (Agapostemon splendens) — photo credit: Natalie Allen and Stephanie Kolski, U.S. Geological Survey; preying mantis, monarch butterfly (Danaus plexippus), hellgrammite (aka toe biter) larva and eyed click beetle (Alaus oculatus) — photo credit: Leslie Mertz; Halloween pennant (Celithemis eponina) — photo credit: Kay Meng, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

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