Cool Insects

Boreus elegans

by Rob Cannings

The Boreidae (from the Greek “Boreas”–the North Wind, the North), or snow scorpionflies, are small, flightless mecopterans that resemble minute grasshoppers. The Holarctic genus Boreus, one of two known Boreidae genera in British Columbia (the other is the rare Caurinus), was chosen to represent the province for several reasons. British Columbia is a province of mountains and snow, the characteristic habitat of these insects. They are distinctive, with interesting and unusual behaviour. Five of the seven known Canadian species live in the province.

Boreus elegans is the most distinctive of the British Columbia snow scorpionflies. It is considerably larger and redder in colour than the other four species of Boreus; as its name suggests, it is considered by some as the most striking of the genus. In Canada it occurs only in British Columbia. Although it is not distributed as widely in the province as some of the other species (e.g., B. californicus, B. pilosus, B. reductus), it inhabits the Coast Range and lives among the mountains by the sea, the two features most often associated with our province (and now linked with the image of Boreus on the ESBC seal).

Boreus californicus adults mating. Photo: Bob Lalonde.

Boreus adults are dark, long-legged insects that appear in the fall and winter. They are often found hopping and walking on the surface of the snow, where they are conspicuous because of their unusual movement and contrasting colour. The male has vestigial, bristle-like wings with which he grasps the female during mating. In the female, the wings are further reduced to small scales. The female has a long and conspicuous ovipositor.

The larvae are C-shaped grubs with a well-developed head capsule and three pairs of thoracic legs. They live among the moss and clubmoss plants on which they feed.

The Entomological Society of British Columbia’s official insect, a female Boreus elegans in silhouette. Illustrated by Rob Cannings, 1981.

At the Entomological Society of British Columbia executive meeting on 27 November 1980, those present chose the genus Boreus (Mecoptera: Boreidae) to represent the Society on a new logo. Dr Cannings was given the task of recommending a particular species of Boreus for this honour. His only instructions were: “Make sure you choose a good species…we don’t want the Society’s insect to end up as a forgotten synonym in a few years!” Boreus elegans Carpenter was the final choice as the Society’s official insect. Cannings also illustrated the female of the species in silhouette as the Society’s logo and printed it on the covers of the newsletter, suitably named Boreus. The logo was subsequently incorporated into the Society’s seal by Cannings and Peter Belton.

This is a slightly modified and updated version of an article in the inaugural issue of Boreus, written by the Editor, Rob Cannings. Rob is Curator Emeritus of Entomology at the Royal British Columbia Museum in Victoria, where he was Curator from 1980 to 2013. Rob’s research interests focus on insect systematics and faunistics, especially in the Odonata and Asilidae (Diptera), but he publishes widely on many insect groups. He has a strong interest in popularizing insects and insect identification through handbooks, keys and the internet. In former lives, Rob worked as a biologist and nature interpreter for British Columbia Parks and the Canadian Wildlife Service and was a lecturer and museum curator at the University of British Columbia. He served the Entomological Society of British Columbia in several capacities, including President (1986, 2001) and Regional Director to the ESC (1983–86). He started the newsletter Boreus in April 1981 and was Editor until 1991.

Boreus elegans

Boreus elegans Carpenter, 1935

Order: Mecoptera (Scorpionflies and Hangingflies)

Family: Boreidae (Snow Scorpionflies)

  • Adults are active in winter
  • Inhabit boreal and high-altitude areas of the Northern Hemisphere
  • B. elegans found only in British Columbia

Hosts: Moss and clubmoss plants

Habitat: Mountains and snow