Colorado: Rare bug denied endangered status

Arapahoe snow fly.

Global warming threatens Arapahoe snow fly with extinction

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — A tiny aquatic insect whose eggs hatch beneath the spring ice of Colorado high country streams deserves protection under the Endangered Species Act — but won’t get it just yet because other endangered critters take priority.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said this week the Arapahoe snow fly is threatened by global warming, and lack of regulatory mechanisms to protect it from that threat.

The federal agency will add the bug to the candidate species list and monitor its status with annual reviews.

The decision came after a 12-month status review, finding there is sufficient scientific and commercial data to propose listing the species as threatened or endangered throughout its range.

“When a ‘warranted but precluded’ finding is made for a species, we classify it as a candidate for addition to the federal list of threatened and endangered species,” said Mike Thabault, ecological services assistant regional director for the USFWS. “If we propose the Arapahoe snowfly for protection under the ESA in the future, the public will have an opportunity to comment,” he said.

The Arapahoe snowfly is amember of the stonefly order, well-known to anglers and other river-watchers for an impressive spring hatch, when many of the bugs swarm above the water in unison.

The species has a complex one-year lifecycle that requires terrestrial habitat during its adult phase and aquatic habitat during immature phases. In late winter, adults emerge from beneath stream ice to mate. Females detach an egg mass onto the water and eggs hatch in early spring. As water temperatures rise, nymphs move into the stream substrate and undergo a period of inactivity during the warm months. As water temperatures drop in the late fall, nymphs complete their development into adults.

Stoneflies, including the Arapahoe snowfly, are typically found in cold, clean, well-oxygenated streams and rivers.  They are sensitive to most types of pollution.

The species was first discovered in 1986 in Young Gulch, a small tributary of the Cache la Poudre River in the Front Range of the Rocky Mountains of Colorado.

It is a small, dark‑colored insect with both a body length and wing length of about 0.2 inches. In 1988, it was identified as a new species. It was also found in a second tributary, Elkhorn Creek, approximately five miles from Young Gulch.

No other populations have been found in searches of nearby tributaries, and numerous visits to Young Gulch since the species’ discovery in 1986 have failed to locate additional specimens.  Thus, the Service believes the species is extirpated from Young Gulch and currently only occurs in Elkhorn Creek.

The status review identified threats to the species including the potential present and future threat of habitat modification caused by climate change; the lack of adequate regulatory mechanisms to protect the species from impacts due to climate change; and its small population size (only one known population with few individuals documented).

The U.S. Forest Service, which manages the lands where the Arapahoe snowfly has been located, oversees several other activities, including recreational use, forest management, and grazing, which were not found to be threatening the species at this time.

For more information about the Arapahoe snowfly and this finding, please visit the Service’s website at



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