Zorapterans (Order: Zoraptera)

A photograph of an adult Zorapteran

A photograph of an adult Zorapteran.
© Brigham Young/Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University.

Zorapterans (sometimes called Angel insects) are the third smallest order of insects, with around 30 species (only the Mantophasmatodea and Grylloblattodea have fewer species). They are found in tropical and warm climates, especially the US, Africa and SE Asia, though few entomologists have ever seen them.

These tiny, delicate insects are normally less than 3mm in size and live in small groups under bark or in rotting wood or leaf litter. They have also been found in termite nests from time to time. Angel insects have triangular heads and biting mouthparts and look and behave like termites. They are scavengers of fungal spores and mycelium, and they sometimes eat tiny mites. They also like to spend some time grooming themselves, according to those who know about these insects.

There are two adult forms of each species. One is blind, pale and wingless. The other is darker, with compound eyes and relatively large wings for their body size which, like termites, they can shed when they want to.

Mating behaviour

In some species of angel insects males give gifts of secretions from glands in the head when looking for a mate, and the female seems to choose males on the basis of the quality of this offering. Females may mate with the same male more than once. In other species, males are known to fight for females, kicking each other with their hind legs.


Zorapterans have been suggested to be closely related to the Orthoptera (grasshoppers, crickets etc) although their correct position among other insects is not known for certain.

All known members of this little order belong in one family - the Zorotypidae. There are two genera - Formosozoros and Zorotypus.

The scientific name comes from the Greek zor meaning pure and aptera meaning wingless. The name was given to the order in 1913, before the winged forms were discovered.

Where are they found?

You might find some of these using a Tullgren funnel, although sifting out rotten bark might also be worth trying. Of course, you will need a hand-lens to see them properly.

Related links: Zorapterans (Order: Zoraptera)

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