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American Salmonfly (Pteronarcys dorsata)

Detailing the physical features, habits, territorial reach and other identifying qualities of the American Salmonfly

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Image Credit: Steve K. from Pascoe, WA
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The large and unassuming American Salmonfly is a water-loving, ecologically sensitive insect that occasionally plays opossum.

Updated: 01/02/2022; Authored By Staff Writer; Content ©www.InsectIdentification.org
American Salmonflies are the largest North American stonefly and are most active from late spring to late summer. Like other members of the Stonefly family, the American Salmonfly is a useful bio-indicator. The aquatic larvae of the American Salmonfly live underwater during these early life stages and they are extremely sensitive to pollution. If the water is laced with chemicals, the larvae will die. Hence, the sight of many adults means the water source and the ecosystem it supports are healthy and clean. For fishermen, the sight of American Salmonflies is most welcome.

Adults do not eat and have short life spans of less than a month. They are long and slender with dark wings that close tightly around their bodies. Their black eyes are bulge out of the sides of their head. A dark pronotum ('neck collar') is bordered in bright orange at both ends and a fading orange line that almost connects both ends. Long, black antennae and legs resemble those of beetles. They rest on rocks, reeds, and branches near or above water, waiting for opportunities to reproduce. If adults are threatened, they can release a chemical irritant from their legs in hopes of dissuading an attacker. If that fails, they may play dead.

Females drop fertilized eggs into the water. There, they hatch and develop into larvae. Their diet consists of algae and other rotting plant matter underwater. They are an important food source for fish. Anglers, especially fly fishers, use living larvae as well as manufactured imitations as fish bait. Where there are Salmonflies, there are fish. Larvae look like little crustaceans, not flying insects. After several rounds of molting and growing, they eventually leave the water where they mature into winged adults, shedding their exuviae, or exoskeletons. These empty 'shells' are abandoned not far from the water's edge.©InsectIdentification.org

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General Characteristics

Capability, Shape, Texture/Pattern, Benefits, Dangers
Flying insect icon
Helpful insect icon
Nocturnal insect icon

Taxonomic Hierarchy

Species Breakdown
Kingdom: Animalia
  Phylum: Arthropoda
    Class: Insecta
      Order: Plecoptera
        Family: Pteronarcyidae
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          Genus: Pteronarcys
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            Species: dorsata

Identifying Information

Size, Colors, Features
Scientific Name: Pteronarcys dorsata
Other Name(s): Stonefly
Category: Stonefly
Size (Adult; Length): 31mm to 48mm (1.22" to 1.88")
Colorwheel Graphic Colors: brown; red; black; gray; green
Descriptors: flying; helpful; nocturnal

Relative Size Comparison

Typical Size Between 31mm (1.2in) and 48mm (1.9in)
Lo: 31mm
Md: 39.5mm
Hi: 48mm

Territorial Map*

U.S., Canada, and Mexico
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Prince Edward Is.  
* MAP NOTES: The territorial heat map above showcases (in red) the states and territories of North America where the American Salmonfly may be found (but is not limited to). This sort of data is useful when attempting to see concentrations of particular species across the continent as well as revealing possible migratory patterns over a species' given lifespan. Some insects are naturally confined by environment, weather, mating habits, food resources and the like while others see widespread expansion across most, or all, of North America. States/Territories shown above are a general indicator of areas inhabited by the American Salmonfly. Insects generally go where they please, typically driven by diet, environmental changes, and / or mating habits.
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