Northern Nevada landscapes and gardens: What is this insect?

Someone recently sent me a photo of a long-necked flying insect with long transparent wings that had been hanging out on one of her window screens. I recognized it, but couldn’t remember its name, so I googled “long-necked flying insects.”

By golly, it came up as snakefly!

The snakefly has a tiny head and a very long neck. It looks like something out of a science fiction movie, a cross between a dragon and a snake with wings. The female snakefly has a long egg-laying ovipositor that looks like a stinger, but it is not.

The snakefly is basically harmless to humans, although they may bite if threatened. It is actually a beneficial predatory insect. Both the adult and the larvae are predators. The larvae of the snakefly eat eggs and the larvae of other insects, including the grubs of wood-boring insects, and also arachnids such as mites.

According to bugguide.net “Adults typically prefer aphids but may eat a wide variety of arthropods. Adults of at least some species can also feed on sugary substances.” They also eat pollen.

These little dragons are related to other beneficial insects, lacewings and ant lions.

Females lay eggs in bark crevices and the egg stage can last from a few days to three weeks. Most species have one generation per year (Washington State University), with the larval stage for most species taking two to three years (bugguide.net). The larvae are often found under the bark in the galleries of wood-boring insects (WSU). They pupate under the bark and adults emerge in late summer.

Occasionally, you might find a snakefly indoors if wood is brought in where snakefly eggs had been laid. However, they usually live outside on trees.

Another strange insect is the tarantula hawk. It too is a beneficial insect and paralyzes its prey, often tarantulas or other spiders, with venom. It then drags the paralyzed living prey it to its nest, where it lays a single egg on the prey. The egg eventually hatches to a larva which feeds on the still-living prey. The female is the hunter of the species while the male eats nectar.

While the four-inch long tarantula hawk wasp is beneficial, it has a sting that is reported to be one of the most painful in the world. It has no known predators because of its awful sting. Fortunately, they are not aggressive unless you bother them.

Aren’t insects fascinating?

JoAnne Skelly is Associate Professor & Extension Educator, Emerita, University of Nevada Cooperative Extension. She can be reached at [email protected]

, , , ,