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Plecoptera wings
© John Pickering, 2004-2019 · 1
Plecoptera wings

© John Pickering, 2004-2019 · 1

© John Pickering, 2004-2019 · 1
Click here for Stonefly checklist in the Great Smoky Mountains.

Plecoptera (stoneflies) are a small order of insects of about 2000 species worldwide, with their long but fragmented fossil record dating back to the early Permian. The living suborders, Arctoperlaria and Antarctoperlaria, easily contain the earliest fossils. The more modern fossils are easily indentifiable from Miocene (38 - 54 MYA) fossils. -- (University of Texas)

Stoneflies can be easily recognized by a few simple characters. They have three segmented tarsi but their hind legs are not modified for jumping to the extent of Orthoptera (crickets and grasshoppers). Their filiform antennae are at least half the length of the body. The cerci are generally long as well, especially in the aquatic nymphs. The wings are almost always present but are sometimes very short. They are folded horizontally back over the body. These characters help distinguish them from Dermaptera and Embioptera which they superfically resemble and to which they are probably closely related. The immatures are variously called nymphs or naiads, but are most frequently referred to as nymphs. All nymphs are aquatic, and resemble the adults in many respects. They also have three-segmented tarsi. The nymphs always have long cerci and never a third central tail or median caudal filament. Gills, if they have them, can occur on various parts of the thorax and abdomen and are composed only of filiments, not plates.-- (University of Texas).

  • Immatures
    • Antennae long, filiform
    • Body flattened, legs widely separated
    • Tracheal gills present as "tufts" behind the head, at base of legs, or around the anus
    • Each segment of thorax is covered by a large dorsal sclerite
    • Cerci long, multi-segmented
  • Adults
    • Antennae long, filiform
    • Front wings long and narrow; M-Cu crossveins form distinctive boxes near center of front wing
    • Hind wings shorter than front wings; basal area of hind wing enlarged and pleated
    • Cerci long, multi-segmented-- (N.C. State University Entomology Dept.)

Taxonomic Category Scientific Name Common Name
Phylum Arthropoda Arthropods
Class Insecta Insects
Order Plecoptera Stonefly

    The name Plecoptera, refering to the pleated hind wings which fold under the front wings when the insect is at rest, is derived from the Greek "pleco" meaning folded and "ptera" meaning wing. -- (N.C. State University Entomology Dept.)

  • Capniidae - small winter stoneflies
  • Leuctridae - rolled-winged stoneflies
  • Nemouridae - spring stoneflies
  • Peltoperlidae - roachlike stoneflies
  • Pteronarcidae - giant stoneflies
  • Taeniopterygidae - winter stoneflies
  • Chloroperlidae - green stoneflies
  • Isoperlidae - green-winged stoneflies
  • Perlidae - common stoneflies
  • Perlodidae - perlodid stoneflies

Geographic distribution
Common in and around fast-moving streams in temperate and boreal climates.

North America Worldwide
Number of Families 10 15
Number of Species 465 2000

Natural history
Stoneflies probably represent an evolutionary "dead end" that diverged well over 300 million years ago and are regarded as the earliest group of Neoptera. Immature stoneflies are aquatic nymphs (naiads) that usually live under stones in fast-moving, well-aerated water. Oxygen diffuses through the exoskeleton or into tracheal gills located on the thorax, behind the head, or around the anus. Most species are herbivorous, feeding on algae and other submerged vegetation, but two families (Perlidae and Chloroperlidae) are predators of mayfly nymphs (Ephemeroptera) and other small aquatic insects. Adult stoneflies emerge from their streams and can generally be found on the banks next to their previous habitat. They are not active fliers and usually remain near the ground where they feed on algae or lichens. In many species, the adults are short-lived and do not have functional mouthparts. Stoneflies are most abundant in cool, temperate climates. -- (University of Texas)

    Economic Importance:

    Stoneflies require cool, well-oxygenated water for their nymphal development and are therefore very susceptible to human abuse of water courses. Farm drainage, land clearing, impoundment of water courses all of which cause changes in temperature and substrate content can eliminate stoneflies from a habitat. -- (University of Texas). Because of stoneflies' impact susceptibility, they are used by ecologists as indicators of water purity. Stoneflies are also an important source of food for game fish (e.g., trout and bass) in cold mountain streams.-- (N.C. State University Entomology Dept.)

How to encounter
With a few exceptions in the southern hemisphere living on damp soil, stonefly nymphs dwell in aquatic habitats. The preferred habitat is rocky streams with at least a noticeable current. Some species can live in damp sandy areas. Although we know much less about lakes as habitats than rivers and streams, lakes can provide suitable habitat in the north and at high latitudes.The usual habitat in running water contains rocky, stony, or gravel substrata with more diversity in cooler, swifter water. Some studies have shown a correlation between certain species and certain habitats. For instance, Perlidae and Perlodidae are usually encountered under large stones, while Chloroperlidae tend to occur in gravel and Pteronarcyidae are frequently found in leaf packs.-- (University of Texas).

Links to other sites

This page written by Michael Howell, Ecology major at the University of Georgia, Athens.
Thanks to Sabina Gupta, Denise Lim, and Dr. John Pickering for technical and web support in developing this page.

1. http://www.cals.ncsu.edu/course/ent425/compendium/stonef~1.html
2. http://www.sbs.utexas.edu/jcabbott/courses/bio321web/labs/plecoptera/Plecoptera.pdf

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Updated: 2020-07-06 06:18:05 gmt
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