Wisconsin Fly Fishing for Trout

Caddisfly Life Cycle

Caddisflies undergo complete metamorphosis. The caddisfly lifecycle includes four stages – egg, larva, pupa and adult.

Caddisflies belong to the Insect Order called Trichoptera.

Caddisfly Larva

Most of the life of a caddisfly is in the larva stage. They appear very grub-like in appearance.

The larva undergoes five instars as they grow and mature.

Caddisfly larvae are classified by the way they feed: Scrapers, Collectors, Shedders, and Predators.

Development for most caddisfly larvae takes about 1 year. A few have more than one generation per year and some take up to two years.

Before pupation the larva either spins a silken cocoon or seals off their case.

Three basic types of Caddisfly larva

  1. Case makers (chimney or tube-like)
  2. Net spinners
  3. Free-living

Case Makers

Also referred to as "portable case makers".

Different families and genera of caddis case makers have evolved specific case designs based on their habitat, camouflage, and protection from predators.

The larvae create silk which is used to secure pebbles, twigs, sand, leave particles, and wood particles to form their case.

Fast water caddis larval cases are generally streamlined, solid, and made of pebbles and other materials to stand up to the stream flow.

Slow water caddis larval cases are more randomly built and many use sticks, twigs, leave materials, etc.

Some carry their larval case around with them while others add to their case as they grow. Others have to abandon their case and build a new one as they go through their various instar stages.

Some case makers are considered scrapers feeding on algae, detritus, and animal materials found on rocks along the bottom. While other case makers are detritivorous shedders of plant materials found along the bottom.

caddis larva in case
caddisfly larva cases

Net Spinners

Net spinners build silky spiderwebs in the riffles and runs along the bottom with their spiderweb-like nets in front of their makeshift homes. Most have some type of shelter facing the current waiting for food to be caught in their spiderweb net. Most net-spinning caddis larvae are also called fixed retreat makers and are collectors or gathers.

Hydropsyche Larva (net spinner caddis larva)


These caddis larvae have no case for protection. They use their anal hooks to attach to rocks along the bottom.

They roam the faster runs looking for food, many are predators feeding on other small aquatic insects and larvae, such as Rhyacophila (Green Rock Worm).

rhyacophila larva called green rock worm

Pupal state

Caddisfly larvae eventually seal their cases or spin a cocoon and go into pupation. After several weeks or possibly months the fully developed pupae break free of their cocoon or sealed case and swim to the surface or crawl to the shoreline. This is referred to as the pharate adult. The air-breathing adult caddisfly is encased inside a transparent, thin waterproof pupal skin (think of a person inside a diver's suit).

Pycnopsyche caddis pupa

Note: Some caddisfly larvae go dormant and hide over the summer before going into pupation, such as the large stick-case caddis larvae (Pycnopsyche) that are abundant and easy to find in many rivers in the Spring.

Pharate adult

The pharate adult is somehow shrink-wrapped to protect the fully developed adult caddisfly as it makes it way out of the river or stream. Some authors have stated that causes an gas bubble to be trapped inside the pupal skin which creates a silvery glow as the pharate adult makes its way to the surface.

This is the most vulnerable stage for caddisflies to trout and other predators.

Most caddisfly pupae species swim to the surface, but some pupae species crawl to shallows to hatch along the shoreline.

For hatching aquatic insects, the surface film is a major barrier that the pharate adult must successfully break through to survive as a winged adult. Once the pharate adult breaks through the surface film the thorax section of the pupae breaks under pressure and the caddis fly adult quickly flies off.

Caddisfly Adult (Egg laying)

Caddisfly adults quickly retreat to the vegetation along the banks. Often swarming over the stream or lake before mating. Mating takes place along the bank on the ground or in the bushes and trees.

After mating the females vary in how they deposit their eggs. Some dip their abdomen in the water to lay their eggs while others dive underwater to attach their egg mass to a substrate. Others lay eggs along the stream edge and rainwater washes the eggs into the stream.

The female caddisfly species that dive underwater to lay their eggs are the most vulnerable to trout.

caddisfly adult
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