Snipe Fly Facts & Information 2021 (Rhagionidae)

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Snipe Fly Facts & Information Guide 2021 (Rhagionidae)

Snipe fly on a leaf
Snipe flies are known for having a long, thin proboscis which is often compared to the long beak of a snipe bird. Mathias Krumbholz, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Snipe flies, or Rhagionidae, are a relatively small family of flies that is nested within the larger order Diptera, or more commonly, the ‘true flies’. Snipe flies are dark in coloration, and typically grow to be anywhere from 8 to 15 millimeters in length by the time they reach maturity. They can be distinguished by their thin and long body shape, rounded head shape, and lengthy legs. Snipe flies have a long, thin proboscis protruding from their head- which is where the name ‘snipe’ comes from. Many people compare the appearance of the snipe fly’s proboscis to the long beak of a snipe bird!

There are 25 species of snipe flies in North America alone, as well as 15 species existing in the United Kingdom. Each unique species varies slightly from the next, so we will just give an overarching run-down on the snipe fly family, Rhagionidae, and mention individual species if necessary.

While adult snipe flies have the ability to fly and tend to be found in wooded habitats, the larvae are more commonly observed nestled down in moist soil, in close proximity to stagnant water, or hiding in decaying vegetation. Adult female snipe flies will lay their eggs during mating season, which in time will hatch into the tiny larvae that will continue on the life cycle.

Down-looker fly, downlooker snipe fly, common snipe fly
True flies
Woodlands, moist habitats
0.3 – 0.6 inches (8 – 15 millimeters)

What Do Snipe Flies Look Like?

Golden-backed snipe fly on a leaf
Many species of snipe flies have interesting patterns, like this golden-backed snipe fly. Katja Schulz from Washington, D. C., USA, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Full-grown adults in the family Rhagionidae have drastically different appearances than snipe flies that are in the larval stage of life. Adults can be identified by their long legs, rounded heads, and tapering body shape. Many species of snipe flies have interesting patterns that set them apart from other families within Diptera. All snipe flies have piercing mouth parts that allow them to subdue and consume prey species.

While adult snipe flies look very similar in appearance to the classic-looking flies most people see incredibly frequently, the larvae of snipe flies are another story. Often called maggots, the larvae of snipe flies are sometimes fully aquatic. More frequently, they can be found in moist plant litter like decaying logs or tangled moss.  Females will lay their eggs in clumps, often on leaf litter.

Snipe Fly Habitats – Where Do They Live?

Snipe fly on a tree, displaying its 'downlooker' behavior
Snipe flies usually have a downward-facing head when still, as demonstrated by this downlooker snipe fly. Paul Whippey, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Snipe flies are well-spread throughout the world, and can be found nearly anywhere. Adult snipe flies tend to spend their days hanging out on plants within damp and shady habitats. They prefer grassland, heathland, freshwater, wetlands, scrub, and woodland habitats above others. The posture of a snipe fly, when still, usually consists of a downward-facing head. They tend to fly more slowly than other flies, and often escape dangers on foot rather than by flight.

What Do Snipe Flies Eat? (Snipe Fly Diet)

Black-bean aphid on a plant
Snipe flies are predatory beings and will prey on aphids, like this black-bean aphid, and other insects. Sascha Kohlmann from Berlin, Deutschland, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

While there are many species of snipe flies out there, and diet will vary slightly between populations based on food availability of resources in the environment, all snipe flies are predatory beings. Adults will prey on aphids, as well as other small insects that they can subdue.

The larvae of snipe fly species are also predatory. While they cannot yet fly or capture larger prey with the same efficiency as their adult counterparts, they will still feed on small invertebrates that are nestled in the moss or decaying wood.

Snipe flies are predatory throughout all phases of life. What they consume largely depends on the environment and capability of the fly.

The Life Cycle of Snipe Flies

The pupa of a snipe fly
Snipe fly larvae feed on small insects as they continue to grow, developing into a pupa as seen above, and then finally reaching maturity. Richaar, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Because people do not view snipe flies as an incredibly significant life form, they have not been intensely studied in scientific research, and therefore not much is known about their life cycle. While there is an abundance of biologists that are interested in studying charismatic megafauna like elk and bear, insects like snipe flies do not have such a bright spotlight when it comes to research.

What we do know, however, is that they typically mate between the months of May and June. Female snipe flies will lay their eggs in clusters in moist detritus, and these eggs will hatch into larvae after a short time period. Larvae lack true legs, and are commonly known as ‘maggots.’ The larvae will feed on small insects as they continue to grow and develop. Once the snipe fly reaches maturity, it will have developed true legs, and wings that enable it to fly.

How to Attract Snipe Flies to Ponds – Are They Beneficial?

The majority of people tend to view all flies as nasty pests (we all might be a little guilty of that, after all!), but the truth is that they deserve a little more credit than we give them. In reality, they are important pollinators and provide important ecosystem services. They can pollinate a wide variety of plant species, including many that are important in our economies, like fruit trees.

Flies tend to come into habitats on their own accord, as long as their habitat requirements are met. They are more prevalent in spring and summer months when temperatures are suitable and moisture is abundant. They require moist habitats that have a lot of plant matter as well as detritus. These elements are important for feeding, cover, and reproduction. If all of these elements are present, there is a good chance that you already have snipe flies thriving on your property!

Healthy, well-balanced habitats are capable of supporting a wide variety of plant and animal life, and flies are simply another important piece within an ecosystem. Not only are they important because of their role in the pollination process for plants, but they also provide food for other species. Fish and wildlife will happily feed on flies as a healthy snack. If you decide that you want to have an abundance of fish, frogs, birds, and other wildlife species around to enjoy, then snipe flies can add an important element to your pond. When flies are present, fish and wildlife species have greater access to food.

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