The Long-Lost Snow Fly

This morning as we were shoveling the season’s first snowfall from our driveway, I wondered aloud whether this would be the winter I finally get to see another one of those wingless crane flies, sometimes referred to as “snow flies” (Limoniidae: Chionea spp.). They’re not quite as glamorous as snow scorpionflies, but they’re interesting curiosities nonetheless. It’s been eleven years since I last saw one, which means I’ve never had an opportunity to photograph one since acquiring a decent macro lens.

After we finished shoveling, we headed out for a quick walk in the woods behind our house. We had only made it to the corner of the yard when I had to dash back inside to get my camera, because a Chionea was standing there waiting for us! Julia kept an eye on it while I was gone; it wandered into one of our footprints, and had just finished climbing back out when I returned:


It alternated between walking and standing still for seconds at a time, so I was able to try various angles and levels of magnification:


Something I didn’t realize until I was processing these photos is that these flies aren’t quite wingless. In all true flies (Diptera), the hind wings have been reduced to little knobby-looking things called halteres. I knew that Chionea species had these, but on this individual you can see that the forewings are still present too—they’ve just been reduced to a fraction of the size of the halteres. If I had known that when I was taking these pictures I could have done a better job showing it, but in this cropped-down side view you can at least see what I’m talking about:


The onset of winter is no reason to stop looking for bugs, as I’ve previously written about here and here and here.


About Charley Eiseman

I am a freelance naturalist, endlessly fascinated by the interconnections of all the living and nonliving things around me. I am the lead author of Tracks & Sign of Insects and Other Invertebrates (Stackpole Books, 2010), and continue to collect photographs and information on this subject. These days I am especially drawn to galls, leaf mines, and other plant-insect interactions.
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5 Responses to The Long-Lost Snow Fly

  1. Anonymous says:

    I’ll look for them as I shovel the snow. Fascinating!

  2. Win Rogers says:

    COOL. Thank you.

  3. irisclearwater says:

    Amazing, Charlie, thank you for capturing and sharing the wonder of life! Your photos help me to imagine it a little tiny bit what its extraordinary experience of the world might be like.

  4. Very cool! Besides snow scorpionflies I am going to also keep an eye out for these.

  5. Pingback: Wingless Weirdos | BugTracks

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