Svalbard. Pictographic. Invertebrate. Database and. Educational. Resource.

The Insects

There are over 250 species of insect recorded from Svalbard, including beetles, flies, fleas and even aphids. Beetles (Coleoptera) Beetles are also known on Svalbard. However, while as a global average the beetles comprise 38% of all insect species, in the Arctic beetles are far less diverse. Only 20 species are recorded from Svalbard forming 8.8% of the insect species in the archipelago. In generally they are rare and difficult to find but there are two species of predatory rove beetles (Staphylinidae) are common under stones under birdcliffs.

Staphylinid beetle (rove beetle) found in large numbers under bird cliffs. A powerful predator.
Staphylinid beetle (rove beetle) found in large numbers under bird cliffs. A powerful predator.
Photo: Bjørn Erik Sandbakk

These are powerful hunters in their own world and may attack and eat springtails (Collembola), particularly the large yellow springtail, Megaphorura arcticus (no common name) which is often the same size as the beetle. A species of weevil may be found on the willow in, amongst other places, Adventfjord.

Weevil, <I>Rhynchaenus flagellum</I>
Weevil, Rhynchaenus flagellum
<i>Simplocaria metallica</I> on stones from Fjortendejulibukta. July 2008.
Simplocaria metallica on stones from Fjortendejulibukta. July 2008.
<i>Amara quenseli</i> Specimen in the collection of the Zoological Museum, Oslo.
Amara quenseli Specimen in the collection of the Zoological Museum, Oslo.

Wasps (Hymenoptera)

Sawfly adult
Sawfly adult
Sawfly larvae crossing moss
Sawfly larvae crossing moss

Wasps are common but not the large black and yellow social wasps with the sting that all are familiar with. The Svalbard wasp fauna consists of two groups, the plant feeding wasps and the parasitic wasps. The plant feeding wasps are generally known as Sawflies due to the fact the female has a sawlike ovipositor (egg laying organ) with which she cuts a hole in the plant leaf into which to lay the egg. The most common species lay eggs on the polar willow (Salix polaris, Polarvier). These eggs rapidly hatch to produce small green caterpillers. These are difficult to spot but in late August can often be found in the cotton wool like substance forming the remains of the willow catkins. The parasitic wasps lay their eggs within the larvae of flies and sawflies. These hatch and eventually eat the host larvae inside out. Wasps with this type of life history are known as parasitoids. While this might sound particularly grisly the parasitoid larvae do not have it all their own way. There exists a group known as hyperparasitoids. These wasps lay their eggs in the larvae of the parasitoid which is within the fly larvae host.

Lepidopteran larvae with parasitoid wasp larvae (Braconidae; Microgastrinae) emerging
Lepidopteran larvae with parasitoid wasp larvae (Braconidae; Microgastrinae) emerging

The grubs soon pupated forming these cocoons. The host larvae was not immediately killed but the scars left by the emerging grubs can be seen as black marks along its flanks.

<i>Pristophora rufipes</i>
Pristophora rufipes (Zoological museum, University of Oslo)
<i>Stenomacrus</i> sp.
Parasitic wasp, Stenomacrus sp.tion

A Syrphis pupa with the adult about to emerge

Bees. Bees are also included in the Hymenoptera but there are none present on Svalbard. Fleas (Siphonaptera)

Adult flea <i>Mioctenopsylla arctica arctica</I> collected from a kittiwake nest in Kongsfjord, July 2008.
Adult flea from goose nest in Kongsfjord


Flea larva
Flea juvenile

The fleas known from Svalbard are parasitic on the birds, the seabirds such as kittiwakes, glaucous gulls and the common eider, but also and the barnacle geese. Flea larvae In general though the birds on Svalbard have few invertebrate parasites compared to bird populations further south. Flea larva


Flies (Diptera) As is common in the Arctic the flies, Diptera, form the most numerous insects. Perhaps the most noticeable being the non-biting chironomids numerous in the summer. These spend most of their lives as larvae before pupating and emerging as adults. Since the adults do not feed they have a short period as an adult. To conserve energy the males often wait on the ground until they hear a female fly past, responding to the sound of her wings. This behaviour was deduced by a Finnish biologist who observed that he could induce the males to take to the air by humming a Finnish folk tune. Left; chironomid (non-biting midge) larvae. These larvae are common in freshwaters or organic soils on Svalbard, especially if the soils are moist. Right; chironomid pupae. Left <i>Chironomus lugrubris</i>, right <i>Trichocera</i> sp. <i>Heleomyza borealis</i> Close up of the wing of a fly The mosquito in Svalbard, <i>Ochlerotatus (Aedes) nigripes<i> There are also mosquitoes on Svalbard. These can be extremely numerous, especially in Adventdalen, around Brucebyen and Kapp Thordsen. The species is irritating but not thought to spread disease on Svalbard. The commonly repeated story that the mosquito was accidentally imported to Svalbard by phosphate miners is, unfortunately, likely to be incorrect (See Box in Where do they come from?). Left, Spyflue <i>Protophormia terraenovae</I> on a house in Longyearbyen. Right, With the correct bait this spyflue can be caught in large numbers !  Baited Malaise trap behind UNIS. July 2009. Spyfluer <i>Cynomia mortuorum</I> Top left, the dungfly <i>Scatophaga</I> sp. proudly atop polar bear dung. Top right. Dungfly eggs, the white spots, on reindeer dung. Left <i>Coelopa frigida</i> Left <i>Copromyza stercoraria</i>, right <i>Scatophaga furcata</i>

One of the dungflies present in Svalbard, Scataphaga furcata (from the zoology museum collection, University of Oslo)

Left <i>Heleomyza</i> sp., right <i>Priophilia</i> sp. <i>Parasyrphus tarsatus</i>


Butterflies and moths (Lepidoptera). <i>Apamea maillardi<i> <i>Pyla fusca</i> camouflaged against the lichen. Kongsfjord. Usually one of the most obvious orders of insects are the butterflies and moths but on Svalbard there are only three species of resident moth and no butterflies. One of the moths is only known from Kongsfjord, Pyla fusca (no common name), while the other, the Exile (Apamea maillardi) is observed in many locations, including Lepidopteran larvae in Endalen. AB:201 students 2009 Adventdalen but in extremely low numbers.

The third species has an interesting story. First collected in 1873 from Wide Bay (Wijdefjord) the species seemed to disappear and was missing and not seen again until 2015 when it was again sampled from Ringhordalen i Wijdefjord. The species was given the name Plutella polaris and was thought to also only be found i Svalbard. However, a recent record Altai mountains in Russia indicates that it is more widely distrubuted in the Arctic. Although only three are resident on Svalbard, that is they are able to complete their life cycle here, many species are occasionally blown here with the wind. Seven other species, including the green veined white (Pieris napi), Camberwell beauty (Nymphalis antiopa) and the painted lady (Vanessa cardui) have been seen on Svalbard. However, it is the Diamond Backed Moth, (Plutella xylostella)

The diamond back moth, <i>Plutella xylostella</I>, a wind blown vagrant observed on Svalbard every three or four years. This species cannot live on Svalbard but is occasionally brought here by south easterly winds.
The vagrant moth, the diamond-backed moth (Plutella xylostella) regularly seen in Svalbard due to mass dispersal here from Fennoscandia during the mid-summer period

that is the best known vagrant. This species is arrives regularly after a period of southerly winds being brought from the Norwegian mainland or Finland. It cannot survive here and soon dies. Caddisflies (Trichoptera) One species of caddisfly is present and can be seen in many ponds and lakes, for example Linnevatn or ponds in front of glaciers Adult caddis fly (vårflue) <i>Apatania zonella</i>, Linnevatn.. This insect is best known for the case composed of small stones that the nymph constructs and lives in. True bugs (Hemiptera) Perhaps surprisingly there are two species of aphid on Svalbard and both are endemic, that is they are only

Aphids on mountain avens (Dryas octopetala). This aphid occurs in a few locations in Svalbard and is believed to be 'endemic', that is, only found in Svalbard. This makes it one of the rarest insects in the world.

 <i>Acyrthosiphon svalbardicum</i> a darker red than is often seen. known from Svalbard. Both these species have evolved unusual lifecyles to cope with the Svalbard environment. The best known of these aphids is Acyrthosiphon svalbardicum (no common name). It feeds on the Dryas octopetula, often found at the base of the leaves or on the flower shoots under the petals. The second species, Sitobion calvulus, feeds on polar willow (Polarvier) but occasionally also on Pedicularis sp. (hairy horsewort; lodnemyrklegg). Alate (winged) adult aphid Both species can be found in Adventdalen but also both have a restricted distribution. See life history of aphids on Svalbard.


What is missing? There are also some notable absences amongst the Svalbard insect community. For instance, although there are bumblebees on Greenland, no bees are known from Svalbard.