2013 January 16

A scorpionfly walks into a bar, and the bartender says, “Hey, buddy, why the long face?”[1]

I found this lying dead on the side of the road on June 26, 2012, and immediately scooped it up to bring home. This is only the second scorpionfly I’ve ever seen, and the first one was years ago, before I started taking bug pictures.

It’s been quite a while since I last added a new insect order[2], but here we are: this is my first representative of the Mecoptera. This is a relatively small order of somewhat uncommon insects and includes the scorpionflies, hangingflies, snow scorpionflies, and a few other families that contain only a few (and sometimes only one) rarely-seen species. According to some DNA evidence, it should maybe include fleas as well (which appear to have a common ancestor with the snow scorpionflies), although that isn’t settled yet.

This particular specimen is a female scorpionfly in the family Panorpidae. I can tell she’s a female, because the males have a bulge at the end of their abdomen, and they hold their elongated abdomens curled above their backs, like a scorpion does (Hence the name. The similarity stops with appearance, they don’t sting. The bulge on the male abdomen is just a set of claspers and scent glands for mating purposes).

The only scorpionfly genus listed on BugGuide at the moment is Panorpa, and this specimen looks like it is one of them. They mention that the wing pattern is useful for ID, but I’m not seeing a wing pattern match with anything they have posted so far.

BugGuide also says that the genus Panorpa is “currently under revision”, which means that there are ongoing arguments over which species are actually distinct from each other, and maybe even whether they all belong in the same genus or not. Trying to ID this one to species therefore might be futile until the arguments are settled.

So, scorpionflies are predatory. Their larvae kind of resemble caterpillars, and usually live in the leaf litter where they eat other small invertebrates and dead things. The adults hunt for other insects. They have an interesting mating behavior: it seems that a male will catch a food item, and then hold it while emitting a pheromone to attract females. When she comes around, he presents her with the food item. If she finds it acceptable, he then mates with her while she eats it. Isn’t that sweet?

[1] In the original version of this joke, it was a horse walking into the bar.

[2] I think the last time I added a new insect order was for the Chinese Mantis, back in November of 2011.

4 Responses
  1. January 16, 2013

    Clever lad . . . while his lady friend is busy eating the food item, she’s too distracted to eat him afterwards. Certain other crawling creatures should take note!

  2. sandy permalink
    January 16, 2013

    Re: Food item

    Is this what boxes of chocolates are for on Valentine’s Day?

  3. Carole permalink
    January 16, 2013

    Very interesting and well written. I’ve never seen one.

  4. January 20, 2013

    Is it equivalent to a box of chocolates on Valentine’s Day? I’m going to say, “Yes”. Or, actually, probably closer to dinner at a nice restaurant.

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