winter insects in North Carolina

winter stonefly on leaf

Sluggish, deliberate…
cold controlling her creeping,
she crawls into soil.

We enjoy relatively mild winters here in Raleigh, but that doesn't mean we have a whole lot of insect activity this time of year. I've seen only a smattering of what I would call active species since November – i.e., insects that are actually foraging or looking for mates. Observed cold-hardy hexapods include: a few moth species (Lepidoptera, especially Geometridae and Noctuidae), several saprophagous flies (Diptera, mostly Drosophilidae, Psychodidae, Trichoceridae, and other “Nematocera” and acalypterate flies I couldn't sight ID), and the few rove beetles (Coleoptera: Staphylinidae) I see in our kitchen “litter.” Those compost dwellers shouldn't count, though, as the temperature is quite a bit higher in the bin (more like spring!) I've also run across numerous diapausing insect species since January, mostly while tearing apart an old stump in my yard – mostly Heteroptera and Coleoptera. These guys certainly were not active, though, even after exposing them to the sun on a 50ºF day.

Yesterday I added another order to my short list of active winter species in the Raleigh area. I came across a small winter stonefly (Plecoptera: Capniidae: Allocapnia, I believe), which, of course, is always an exciting event! It slowly crawled over an old planter next to my koi pond, stopping briefly to pose for my camera before losing itself in the litter as I tried to collect it. This tiny stonefly (only about 1 cm long) was magnificent to observe.

The Museum has a small but healthy collection of Allocapnia spp. from North Carolina, including several specimens from Wake County. Most of the specimens I looked at from the Raleigh-Durham area were identified by W. E. Ricker as Allocapnia rickeri Frison, 1942 (must be exciting to determine that specimen under the 'scope as a species named after yourself!), commonly known as the midwest snowfly. I don't see any North Carolina hits in this map of A. rickeri records, though. Hopefully I'll run across more of these stoneflies soon and can actually get one into a vial for posterity. In the meantime I'd love to hear whether I'm on the right track in terms of species identity.

An insect family,
with aquatic imagos?
Yes, Capniidae.

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