Identifying the British species of Leptophlebiidae   Leave a comment

There are three genera of Leptophlebiidae present in the British: Habrophlebia; Leptophlebia; and Paraleptophlebia comprising one, two and three species respectively. This guide is designed to help with the identification of these species.


First steps

Mature nymphs are easy to take to genus if they still have their gills attached (Figure 1).  I say ‘if’ as gills on Leptophlebiid nymphs seem to be a bit of an optional extra as they readily fall off during sampling and handling.

Habrophlebia Leptophlebia Paraleptophlebia

Figure 1: Gill shape of Leptophlebiidae genera

Habrophlebia has multiple branching gills, like little trees. The gills of Paraleptophlebia are like little letter ‘Y’s or tuning forks. Those of Leptophlebia are similar but broaden out from the base to form a flattened plate. Be careful because the gills of immature Leptophlebia don’t broaden out until the nymphs are about half grown and until then they resemble the strap-like gills of Paraleptophlebia.  This often catches people out and a number of records of Paraleptophlebia werneri – a relatively rare species – have turned out to be immature Leptophlebia marginata.  Soif you’ve got a small specimen (<5mm) or the gills are damaged you’ll have to look at the mouthparts to separate the genera. The idea of looking at mouthparts usually fills the novice with dread but it’s actually relatively straightforward.  First you’ll need a preserved specimen as you’ll need to detach the head from the body and then ‘pick out’ the mouthparts under a microscope with a fine needle. You’re looking for the maxilla and the maxillary palp.  The image at should help you locate them.  Once you’ve found them the genus can be confirmed as follows. In Habrophlebia and Leptophlebia the maxillary palp is shorter than themaxilla, whereas in Paraleptophlebia the maxillary palp is longer than the maxilla (Figure 2).




Figure 2: Maxilla and Maxillary Palps of Leptophlebiidae genera

Taking it to species

Habrophlebia is easy to take to species – or it should be!  There is only one species, Habrophlebia fusca, known from the British Isles and if you’ve checked what’s left of the gills and confirmed with the mouthparts you’re there!  However keep an eye out for the possibility of European species turning up in the UK. Thraulus spp. are similar to Habrophlebia but the first gill is made up of two simple branches (like a letter ‘Y’ or a tuning fork – see Paraleptophlebia below). Other European species ofHabrophlebia might also appear in the UK. Habrophlebia fusca has 2 to 4 filaments on the small branch of gills 2 to 6. If you suspect you’ve got a different Habrophlebia sp. or Thraulus sp. then get in touch with the Ephemeroptera Recording Scheme.

To separate the two Leptophlebia spp. take a look at the gills (Figure 3). In L. vespertina the wide part of the gills tapers gradually towards the tip, whereas in L. marginata the wide part ends abruptly about halfway along the gill.  To confirm the identification you can take a look at the claws (Figure 4).  If the teeth cover nearly the whole length of the claw it’s L. vespertina, if they stop short (3/4 along the claw) it’s L. marginata. If you really want to be sure check the bristles on the femur (Figure 5). These bristles are, I have to admit, difficult to see but if you’ve got enough magnification (between x60 and x100) and have decent lighting you should be able to make them out.  In Leptophlebia marginata the bristles are simple and pointedwhereas in L. vespertina they have many little points up the sides which gives them a feathery, spiky appearance, or at lower magnification, a fuzzy, indistinct outline.

image013Leptophlebia marginata image015Leptophlebia vespertina

Figure 3: Gills of mature Leptophlebia spp.

image018Leptophlebia marginata image020Leptophlebia vespertina

Figure 4: Teeth on tarsal claw of Leptophlebia spp.

image022Leptophlebia marginata image023Leptophlebia vespertina

Figure 5: Bristles on the femur of Leptophlebia spp.

You can compare the relative size of the first and second gills to separate Paraleptophlebia submarginata from P. cincta and P. werneri.  The first gill is around half the size of the second in P. submarginata, whereas in the other species they are of a similar size, however as you rarely have a full complement of gills I usually skip this step. As a result you’ll have to look at the coverage of teeth on the claws and the shape of the bristles on the femur to make an identification.  In Paraleptophlebia submarginata and P. cincta the teeth cover just over half the length of the claw, whereas in P. werneri they cover around three quarters (Figure 7).  If you think you’ve got a specimen of Paraleptophlebia werneri then you’re either really lucky (it’s a highly localised species of winterbournes and ditches), or more likely, you’ve got an immature specimen of Leptophlebia marginata – look again at the mouthparts to separate the genera.  The final thing to look at is the spines on the underside of the hind femur.  Again, these are difficult to see but with the right magnification and lighting you should be able to pick them out.  In Paraleptophlebiasubmarginta they are cylindrical with blunt tips, whereas in the other species they taper to a point which is blunt in P. cincta and pointed in P. werneri.


P. submarginata


P. cincta/werneri

Figure 6: Comparison of first and second gills in Paraleptophlebia spp.

image030P. submarginata/cincta


Figure 7: Teeth on tarsal claw in Paraleptophlebia spp.

image033  image035  image037
P. submarginata P. cincta P. werneri

Figure 8: Spines on underside of hind leg of Paraleptophlebia spp.

So there you have it.  The identification of British Leptophlebiidae is relatively straightforward once you get the hang of it.  Remember not to force an identification– if you can’t see the feature or discern the differences between species it’s okay to leave the identification at the genus level.  Please also remember to add your records to iRecord (  You can add images to your records which will help with the verification process.


The photographs in this guide are copyright Cyril Bennett.  The diagrams in figure 2 are Peters, W.L. and Edmunds, G.F. (1970). Revision of the Generic Classification of The Eastern Hemisphere Leptophlebiidae (Ephemeroptera). Pacific Insects 12(1): 157-240. The diagrams in figure 8 are taken from Macan T.T. (1952). Taxonomy of the
British species of Leptophlebiidae (Ephem.). Hydrobiologia 4(4):363-376.  All other line diagrams were produced by Rory McCann and are taken from Macadam, C. and Bennett, C. (2010). A Pictorial Guide to British Ephemeroptera. Field Studies Council, Shrewsbury.

You can download a PDF of this guide Notes on the identification of Leptophlebiidae nymphs


Posted January 3, 2016 by macadac1 in Identification, Leptophlebiidae

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