Caddis Flies

One of the most abundant flies in Ontario is the Caddis fly. This fly goes through 3 basic stages in its life: Pupa, Larva and air borne fly. Caddis are very important to the fly fisher because they are a staple in nearly all species of fishes diets.

Caddis Flies of Ontario

Caddisflies or sedge-flies

(Order Trichoptera, from Greek trich, “hair”, and ptera, “wings”)

Caddis are small moth-like insects that  have two pairs  wings. They are closely related to Lepidoptera (moths and butterflies) which have scales on their wings, and the two orders together form the superorder Amphiesmenoptera. Caddisflies have aquatic larvae and are found in a wide variety of habitats such as streams, rivers, lakes, ponds, spring seeps, and temporary waters (vernal pools). The larvae of many species make protective cases of silk decorated with gravel, sand, twigs or other debris.

Many species of caddisfly larvae enter a stage of inactivity called the pupa stage for weeks or months after they mature but prior to emergence. Their emergence is then triggered by cooling water temperatures in the fall, effectively synchronizing the adult activity to make mate-finding easier. In the Northwestern US, caddisfly larvae within their gravel cases are called ‘periwinkles.’

Caddis fly larva ontario
“Caddis Larvae” (photo – D. Barrett)

Caddis fly larva ontario
“Caddis Larvae” (photo – D. Barrett)

Caddisfly pupation occurs much like pupation of Lepidoptera. That is, caddisflies pupate in a cocoon spun from silk. Caddisflies which build the portable cases attach their case to some underwater object, seal the front and back apertures against predation though still allowing water flow, and pupate within it. Once fully developed, most pupal caddisflies cut through their cases with a special pair of mandibles, swim up to the water surface, cast off skin and the now-obsolete gills and mandibles, and emerge as fully formed adults. In a minority of species, the pupae swim to shore (either below the water – see figure – or across the surface) and crawl out to emerge. Many of them are able to fly immediately after breaking from their pupal skin.

Caddis fly pupa ontario
“Caddis Pupa” (photo – D. Barrett)

The adult stage of caddisflies, in most cases, is very shortlived, usually only 1-2 weeks, but can sometimes last for 2 months. Most adults are non-feeding and are equipped mainly to mate. Once mated, the female caddisfly will often lay eggs (enclosed in a gelatinous mass) by attaching them above or below the water surface. Eggs hatch in as little as three weeks.

Caddis fly adult ontario
“Caddis Adult” (photo – Bruce Marlin)

Caddisflies in most temperate areas complete their lifecycles in a single year. The general temperate-zone lifecycle pattern is one of larval feeding and growth in autumn, winter, and spring, with adult emergence between late spring and early fall, although the adult
activity of a few species peaks in the winter. Larvae are active in very cold water and can frequently be observed feeding under ice. In
common with many aquatic insect species, many caddisfly adults emerge synchronously en masse. Such emergence patterns ensure that most caddisflies will encounter a member of the opposite gender in a timely fashion. Mass emergences of this nature are called ‘hatches’ by salmon and trout anglers, and salmonid fish species will frequently ‘switch’ to whatever species is emerging on a particular day.  Anglers take advantage of this behavior by matching their artificial flies to the appropriate fly.

Dave Barrett

Caddis Fly Photos

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