It's an American Salmonfly (giant stonefly)

My wife came in the house the other evening after dark and asked, “What are those big scary bugs out on the driveway?” A couple of neighbors asked me the same thing. Well, to many people, just about any and every “bug” looks scary. But, to me, the insect on the driveway that night was beautiful. That insect was an American Salmonfly (Pteronarcys dorsata). It is also called the Giant Stonefly. They are about two inches long, not counting the antennae, and they are twice that big in some parts of the country.

Stoneflies are important natural trout food and many artificial flies are tied to imitate stoneflies. The word “Salmonfly” is usually reserved for one of the several species of very large stoneflies. Stonefly nymphs live underwater in clear, clean, streams and usually hatch over a short period of time once a year. When they hatch they climb out of the water and break out of their underwater shell, sprout wings and fly. During this time, trout go crazy chasing the big juicy morsels and, consequently, trout fishermen go crazy casting imitations of stoneflies to the trout. To a trout fisherman, anything named “Salmonfly” usually brings tears of joy.

The only problem here is that there are no trout streams on the Plateau cold enough to support the giant trout that like to eat the giant stoneflies. So, I can’t quite get as excited as they do in the western states, where the salmonflies are twice as big and the biggest trout in the stream get careless chasing them. Even so, to me, the sight of a harmless Giant American Salmonfly in my driveway is a beautiful sight.

There is another large insect, probably on your porch right now, that scares a lot of people. It looks like a giant mosquito…I mean like 20 times the size of a regular mosquito. This is the harmless crane fly. The adult crane fly doesn’t eat; they just exist to mate, lay eggs, and die. The larvae looks like a fat worm, 1-4 inches long, and some species live in streams and some in the soil.

My neighbor, Lynne, has crane fly fun on her porch every morning. The crane flies are attracted to the lights at night and some get stuck on her screen. In the morning the chirping sparrows gather up the crane flies and pluck the long spindly legs off one by one and then the wings. Once the crane fly is just a body with no legs or wings, the sparrows eat them or carry them away for their babies.

Some of the biggest, scariest night creatures are just harmless insects looking for sex and trying not to get eaten. It’s a tough world out there in nature.

Comments, questions or suggestions for future nature articles are welcome at don.hazel@gmail.com.