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This is the largest family in the Plenitentoria, with approximately 900 described species. At higher latitudes and elevations, it is the dominant group in much of the Northern Hemisphere. The family was first established by Kolenati (1848) and includes species described by Linnaeus in Systema Naturae, 10th ed. Schmid (1955) resolved the family into its current classification, with refinements by Wiggins and colleagues (Vineyard & Wiggins 1988, Wiggins 1973, Wiggins et al. 1985). The Dicosmoecinae include the only Southern Hemisphere taxa in the family.
This is arguably the most ecologically diverse caddisfly family, as larvae occupy the full range of habitats. Limnephilid larvae are found in lakes, streams, and marshes. Some species of Ironoquia live in temporary pools and streams. Desmona larvae have been observed leaving the water at night to feed on shoreline plants (Erman 1981, Wiggins & Wisseman 1990), and a North American species of Philocasca Ross has an entirely terrestrial larva. Limnephilid larvae use both plant and mineral materials in their cases; the general trend in the family is that larvae in cool running waters use rock material, while those in warmer lentic habitats use plant material (Wiggins 1996).