Snakeflies are prehistoric little creatures that we’re lucky to have on the West Coast. 

They’re in the order Raphidioptera, which translates to “needle wing,” and presumably refers to the needle-like appearance of the female’s ovipositor. Note: The ovipositor is neither a needle nor a stinger… it’s used to inject the insect’s eggs under tree bark. 

Snakeflies may take two to three years to go through complete metamorphosis, which is a long time in the insect world. The larvae, which resemble worm-like versions of the adults, usually stay in or near the tree they grew up in, and feed on small insects and insect eggs. The pupae, bizarrely, are not cocooned, but look like a mash-up between the larvae and the adults, and they can move around. 

Adults are also predators, and I see them flying from May into June. They have a distinctive, reptilian look, with a stretched-out prothorax, and they can pose in some twisty positions. Their four lacy wings sometimes appear glossy in the sunlight. 

The Raphidioptera order is a “relict” group, which means that it was far more widespread in the past. Fossils from as early as the Jurassic period look just like today’s snakeflies. 

Even though they’ve been around for millennia, there are still plenty of mysteries about snakeflies. For one, they’re not found in the tropics, so scientists presumed they needed cold winters to develop into adults. But, 50-million-year-old fossils recently found in Washington state would have lived through mild winters at that time, putting that theory in question. 

Stay curious!

See more of Karen’s work here.


Research article on fossil snakeflies found in Washington and BC: Accessed 5/21/24.

Photo of a snakefly pupa: Accessed 5/21/24.