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Winter Stonefly (Various spp.)

Detailing the physical features, habits, territorial reach and other identifying qualities of the Winter Stonefly

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Emerging from cold waters in early spring, Winter Stoneflies take advantage of cleaner, oxygen-rich streams and rivers that develop once the temperature drops.

Updated: 01/06/2022; Authored By Staff Writer; Content ©www.InsectIdentification.org
Winter Stoneflies do their growing and maturing during the coldest seasons of the year. In autumn and winter, when water temperatures cool down in streams, river, and lakes, the deeper, oxygen-rich water near the bottom is finally able to mix with the now colder surface water. This means that any aquatic life that requires lots of oxygen dissolved in water can expand their territory. Winter Stoneflies are insects whose aquatic larvae spend their lives in bodies of water like rivers and streams. They are also dependent on highly oxygenated water to survive, so their ability to withstand and even thrive in cold temperatures allows them to take advantage of improved conditions in their habitat when most other aquatic insects are absent.

Adults mate in late winter, and females lay fertilized eggs in the water. Stoneflies have only a week or two to reproduce before their short lives are spent. The hatched nymphs feed for a short time and then enter a form of hibernation during spring and summer. They resume activity in the cooler months, molting between 10 to 24 times before crawling out of the water to become a winged adult. The hard shells of their nymph bodies, called exuviae, are often seen near the water's edge and look like pale, little crustaceans. As a mature adult, this generation of Winter Stoneflies finds mates and repeats the cycle, ensuring a population continues in that area year after year.

The nymphs of stoneflies are very sensitive to pollution in water, dying in streams and rivers with seemingly little contamination. This means the presence of Stoneflies is a sign of pristine water, and the insect should be a welcome annual sighting.©InsectIdentification.org

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General Characteristics

Capability, Shape, Texture/Pattern, Benefits, Dangers
Flying insect icon
Harmless insect icon

Taxonomic Hierarchy

Species Breakdown
Kingdom: Animalia
  Phylum: Arthropoda
    Class: Insecta
      Order: Plecoptera
        Family: Taeniopterygidae
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          Genus: Various
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            Species: spp.

Identifying Information

Size, Colors, Features
Scientific Name: Various spp.
Other Name(s): Willowfly
Category: Stonefly
Size (Adult; Length): 2mm to 15mm (0.07" to 0.59")
Colorwheel Graphic Colors: gray; black; brown; red; orange
Descriptors: pale; long; slender; flying; springtime; harmless

Relative Size Comparison

Typical Size Between 2mm (0.1in) and 15mm (0.6in)
Lo: 2mm
Md: 8.5mm
Hi: 15mm

Territorial Map*

U.S., Canada, and Mexico
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Contiguous United States shape map layer graphic
Prince Edward Is.  
* MAP NOTES: The territorial heat map above showcases (in red) the states and territories of North America where the Winter Stonefly 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 Winter Stonefly. Insects generally go where they please, typically driven by diet, environmental changes, and / or mating habits.
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