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Snakefly, a living fossil

By José Antonio Sánchez Iglesias

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You have to fine tune your eyesight to locate one of these strange creatures; perched on a leaf of a mastic tree, the bark of a cork tree or a flower of a rockrose. It is now in spring when small insects like these populate our countryside; most go unnoticed for many of us, but if you’re lucky enough to run into one of them you can feel privileged. That was how I felt a few days ago when during one of the stops we made to look at birds from the Land Rover, I noticed the presence of this little bug perched at my eye level on the windshield. For years I had not been lucky enough to see it, but it came to my mind what it was as soon as I saw it, its extremely long neck leaves no doubt.

Snakeflies are easily recognizable for having the elongated prothorax as an articulated neck and for being able to lift his head above the body like a snake about to strike. They have crystal-clear wings with a rich arterial network. Their flight is very slow. Measuring about 15 millimeters long, with a wingspan of nearly 30 millimeters.

hembra de mosca serpienteThey are ancient insects, authentic living fossils, which enjoyed a period of splendor in the Mesozoic forests. They have survived to present days very depleted in number and variety as a zoological rarity, restricted to the forests of temperate climates of the northern hemisphere (although they are mysteriously absent from large areas of North America apparently favorable to its occurrence).

For a long time scientists classified them as part of the order Neuroptera, but now generally they are considered to constitute a separate order, the Rafidiópteros (snakefly), formally described by the Jesuit and Spanish entomologist Longinus Navás in 1916.

Biology was also a mystery until fairly recently. Both adults and larvae are active predators of small insects, which aroused interest for its potential use in biological pest control and consequently a deeper study of the biology of these extraordinary little creatures.

Although adult females appear to have a long “stinger”, snakeflies do not sting and are harmless to humans. Snakefly larvae have the unusual ability to scurry rapidly both forward and in reverse!

About José Antonio Sánchez Iglesias

José Antonio Sánchez se licenció en Biología por la Universidad de Sevilla en 1985. Más tarde, durante varios años, se dedicó a organizar y guiar rutas de senderismo y naturaleza ...