Current number of accepted species in our list: 605


Strepsiptera are bizarre insects with unusual morphology often referred to as “twisted-wing” parasitoids, (Kinzelbach 1971a; Kathirithamby 1989, 2009, 2018). They are a small order of holometabolous insects, cosmopolitan in distribution (except for one family), and are found in all habitats occupied by insects, except the aquatic. They comprise 15 families, 5 of which are extinct. Strepsiptera parasitize a broad range of hosts, encompassing Apterygota, Exopterygota and Endopterygota, belonging to 7 orders and 35 families of Insecta. Hosts include Blattodea, Diptera, Hemiptera, Hymenoptera, Mantodea, Orthoptera, and Zygentoma (Kinzelbach 1971; Kathirithamby 1989, 2009, 2018).

All species are obligate endoparasitoids for all three of their larval stages. Within holometabolan insects, strepsipterans offer a classical example of dramatic differences between the sexes. Males are free-living as adults, with large raspberry-like eyes, flabellate antennae, shortened forewings and large hind wings. In Mengenillidae both males and females emerge to pupate externally from the host, while the free-living adult females of Mengenillidae are wingless. In Stylopidia, endoparasitism continues through the pupal stages in the males, while the females are neotenic, and remain permanently embedded in the host up to maturity, except for the extruded cephalothorax, and even up to the production of the motile first‐instar planidia. On entry into a new host, the host-seeking planidia become apodous larvae.

Strepsiptera display unusual genetic characteristics: they possess one of the smallest insect genomes (108 Mbp) (Johnston et al. 2004), yet have one of the larger 18S ribosomal DNA sequences, associated with a number of unique and unusually long insertions (Gillespie et al. 2005, Matsumoto et al. 2011), and there are two transfer RNA translocations that disrupt an otherwise ancestral insect mitochondrial genome (McMahon et al. 2009). Both the mitochondrial DNA and the nuclear ribosomal DNA underwent a significant burst of molecular evolution in the early history of Strepsiptera (McMahon et al. 2011). The first molecular phylogeny of Strepsiptera revealed that there are nine families with two suborders: the basal Mengenillidia and the derived Stylopidia (McMahon et al. 2011). Molecular studies support a node uniting Strepsiptera with Coleoptera (Niehuis et al. 2012; Boussau et al. 2014).

The life cycle of Strepsiptera is in synchrony with the host it parasitizes. Most described species are the short-lived males, and caught in traps. The endoparasitic female Stylopidia are found with their hosts. Whenever possible, host records are provided in the database, but often it is unrecorded for the free-living males. In one family, the Myrmecolacidae, males and females parasitize not only hosts from different genera but from different families: males parasitize ants (Hymenoptera: Formicidae), and females parasitise grasshoppers (Orthoptera: Tettigoniidae) and mantids (Mantodea: Mantidae). In this instance, the sexes can only be matched by molecular characterization (Kathirithamby and Hamilton 1992; Kathirithamby and Johnston 2004; Kathirithamby et al. 2009; Hayward et al. 2011)

Strepsiptera have been described from Burmese, Baltic, Fushun and Dominican ambers, Eocene compressions of Messel and Geiseltal, and from shale in the Green River Formation (Kathirithamby 2018). Much has yet to be discovered about the biodiversity of this insect order, primarily because of their tiny size, reclusive nature, and the extremely brief life of the free‐living adult male.


Usage of data from the World Strepsiptera Database in scientific publications should be acknowledged by citing as follows:

  • Kathirithamby, J. (2021) World Strepsiptera Database. Accessed at on 2021-06-20. doi:10.14284/484
If the data from the World Strepsiptera Database constitute a substantial proportion of the records used in analyses, the chief editor(s) of the database should be contacted. There may be additional data which may prove valuable to such analyses.

Individual pages are individually authored and dated. These can be cited separately: the proper citation is provided at the bottom of each page.


Boussau, B. et al. (2014). Strepsiptera, phylogenomics and the long branch attraction problem. Public Library of Science One 9: e107709.

Gillispie, J. et al. (2005). Assessing the odd secondary structural properties of nuclear small subunit ribosomal RNA sequences (18S) of the twisted-wing parasites (Insecta: Strepsiptera). Insect Molecular Biology 14: 625-643.

Hayward, A., et al. (2011). Cryptic diversity and female host specificity in a parasitoid where the sexes utilize hosts from separate orders. Molecular Ecology 20: 1508-1528.

Johnston, J.S. et al. (2004). Tiny genomes and endoreduplication in Strepsiptera. Insect Molecular Biology 13: 581-585.

Kathirithamby, J. (1989). Review of the order Strepsiptera. Systematic Entomology 14: 41 -92.

Kathirithamby, J. (2009). Host-parasitoid associations in Strepsiptera. Annual Review of Entomology 54: 227-249.

Kathirithamby, J. (2018). Biodiversity of Strepsiptera. In: Insect Biodiversity: Science and Society (ed. R.G. Foottit and P.H. Adler), volume 2. Chichester, UK: Wiley.

Kathirithamby, J. and Hamilton, W.D. (1992). More covert sex: the elusive females of Myrmecolacidae (Strepsiptera). Trends in Ecology and Evolution 7: 349-351.

Kathirithamby, J. and Johnston, J.S. (2004). The discovery after 94 years of the elusive female of a myrmecolacid (Strepsiptera), and the cryptic species of Caenocholax fenyesi Pierce sensu lato. Proceedings of the Royal Society of London, B Biology Letters (Suppl. 3) 271: S5-S8.

Kathirithamby, J. et al. (2009). Conspecifics of a heterotrophic heteronomous species of Strepsiptera (Insecta) are matched by molecular characterization. Systematic Entomology 35: 234-242. Matsumoto, Y. et al. (2011). The Strepsipteran parasite Elenchus japonicus (Strepsiptera, Elenchidae) of planthoppers consists of three genotypes. Applied Entomology and Zoology 46, 435-442.

McMahon, D.P. et al. (2009). Mitochondrial genome of the ‘twisted-wing parasite’ Mengenilla australiensis (Insecta, Strepsiptera): a comparative study. BMC Genomics 10: 603.

McMahon, D.P. et al. (2011). First molecular phylogeny of Strepsiptera (Insecta) reveals an early burst of molecular evolution correlated with the transition to endoparasitism. Public Library of Science One 6: e21206, 10pp.

Niehuls, O. et al. 2012. Genomic and morphological convergence to resolve the enigma of Strepsiptera. Current Biology 22: 1-5.

Editor institutions

  • Zoology Department, 11a Mansfield Road, Oxford OX1 3SZ
  • St Hugh’s College, St Margaret’s Road, Oxford OX2 6LE
  • Natural History Museum, Parks Road, Oxford OX1 3PW