Snow Flies

2015 March 21

Sandy and I were out snowshoeing in the woods behind our house on January 3, 2015, when I spotted this little insect slowly pacing across the surface of the snow. For reference, it was only about 25 degrees F (-4 deg. C) at the time, so we were well into freezing conditions. For scale, that’s my fingertip in the upper right corner.

These are something that I last photographed way back in 2008: Snow Flies, genus Chionea. They are wingless crane flies that have adapted to the winter to such an extent that they can wander around on top of the snow at temperatures that render pretty much every other arthropod at least immobile, if not frozen solid.

This one is a female, we can tell by the fact that her abdomen tapers to a point.

A few minutes later, Sandy spotted this second one (a male this time – this is obvious from the large, pincer-like claspers at the tip of his abdomen).

When touched, he would scrunch up into a little pyramid shape and hope for the best.

He was maybe 100 feet away from the female. Given the pace both of them were making, it is quite possible that they had both started from the same place earlier that day. Or, if they were from different spots, they could have met up within an hour or two.

Of course, this isn’t the first time I’ve seen any since 2008. We’ve spotted at least one pretty much every year since then, usually around the middle of January. It’s just the first time I’ve also had a camera with me. Since we usually spot them while snowshoeing, we generally don’t have a container along and it is awkward to carry them back to the house in one’s hands. But, I had the Olympus TG-3 in my pocket this time, and it was reasonably up to the task. The pictures aren’t quite as sharp as I would have gotten with the big DSLR, with its dedicated macro lens and flash, but not bad for a pocket camera.

The last time I posted pictures of one of these, the main comment was that nobody knows what the larvae look like or what they eat, because these have never been successfully reared in captivity. Sandy suggested that I should have taken these two, introduced them to each other, and then followed the female around until she laid eggs. Of course, she wasn’t serious, as this would have required dropping everything else for who knows how long – maybe weeks. But that may be what is ultimately needed in order to sort out the life cycle of these insects.

6 Responses
  1. March 21, 2015

    Sort of off-topic: The quality of the camera on my phone has gotten so good that I’m growing disappointed with my Nikon D60 artillery piece. I didn’t think it possible, but I’m actually considering a new DSLR.

  2. March 21, 2015

    I was going to recommend going for it, since DSLR technology is constantly marching on. I just upgraded last month myself, from a Canon 10D to a 40D, which just about doubled my pixel count while still letting me use my existing high-end macro lens. The key point, though, is that I only buy used DSLRs (I got mine from That way, it cost about $200 instead of $2000. Sure, it isn’t the current model (Canon is up to the 70D, so I’m still about 3 generations behind), but it is still a big jump from where I was.

    But then, I looked up your Nikon D60, and saw that it isn’t actually that old of a camera (it’s about the age of the Canon 40D that I just bought), and the used, but more recent, Nikons look like they are still above what I consider the “sweet spot” for DSLRs at about $200 – $300. So, maybe wait a couple more years before upgrading.

  3. Carole permalink
    March 21, 2015

    Life form for every habitat.

  4. Katbird permalink
    March 22, 2015

    I am looking for a new phone- which is the one you say has such a good camera, please. Thanks.

  5. Katbird permalink
    March 22, 2015

    Thanks for the snow “flies” and especially for the scale with finger!

  6. March 23, 2015


    Over on his blog, KT says that he has a Samsung Galaxy S5. I can’t vouch directly for that one, but the camera on our Galaxy Tab 3 (from the same manufacturer, and similar vintage) is quite good. Aside from not having a flash, these cell phone and tablet computer cameras are at least as good as the better pocket point-and-shoot cameras. And the current Samsung android phones have probably even better cameras now.

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