Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Scorpionfly


Scorpionfly on a car hood. Mike Simpson
This critter landed on one of our trainees at the 2009 Master Naturalist training at La Petite Gemme Prairie.  As you might imagine, it caused a lot of consternation with its long pointed beak and scorpion-like tail.  Like a true naturalist, he caught it in his cap and photographed it.  A field guide confirmed Jay's diagnosis of scorpionfly,  a harmless insect with an image problem.

This particular specimen is Panorpa nuptialis.  They prefer moist areas and dense shrubs but can be found along field edges as well. The scorpionfly isn't a true fly, but belongs to an entirely different family.  A member of the fly family will have the "fly" part of its name as a separate word - think "house fly."  Non-flies like damselfly, mayfly, etc have the words combined.
Scorpionfly- Female
Scorpionflies are the vultures of the insect world, eating dead insects.  Our specimen was a male, confirmed by its scorpion-like tail.  The female's abdomen is shorter and straight, tapering to a slender tip.  The beak or rostrum is also harmless although it resembles an assassin bug beak on first glance.  Both sexes tend to perch on low lying vegetation.

P. Nuptialis at HaHa Tonka- Lee Elliott CC- click to enlarge
Some of the scorpionfly mating rituals may sound familiar to us.  The male courts the ladies first by releasing a pheromone, the insect version of Musk or Old Spice.  Then he invites her to dine with him, offering her "dead insect or, often, a short column of a brown salivary secretion that becomes gelatinous as it dries in the air."  While this may sound disgusting to you, it wows the ladies right off their leaf.  As he grasps her and mates, she just keeps on chewing. *

The caterpillar-like larvae eat dead insects like the adults.  They go through 4 instars before digging into the soil and pupating.  The adults emerge around early September, so it is time to keep your eyes open for them.

* Bugguide.net

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