Thursday, 28 August 2014

The Common Scorpionfly (Panorpa Communis)

Male scorpion-fly resting on a leaf
Common Scorpionfly
Notice the enlarged sting-like genitalia
Credit: Gailhampshire  (CC BY 2.0)
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Arthropoda
Class: Insecta
Order: Mecoptera
Family: Panorpidae
Genus: Panorpa
Species: Panorpa Communis
Conservation Status: Least Concern (Not Threatened)
Common Name(s): Common scorpionfly or just scorpionfly

The common scorpionfly is a weird, scorpion-like insect found throughout the UKs. As you can see on the images, males appear to have a stinger-like tail. No wonder why P. Communis (and other closely related species) are commonly known as "scorpion flies".

Adults have a black and yellow body, with a reddish head and tail. Adults are up to 3 cm (~1.1 in.) long with a wingspan of about 3.5 cm (~1.4 in.). The wings are mostly clear, but have many dark spots or patches.

The head is extended into a beak-like shape and the tiny jaws are situated at the end. The eyes are relatively large.

What about the sting?
Males are easily distinguished by the pair of claspers at the end of the tail, reminiscent of a scorpion's stinger. The scorpion-like tail is in fact part of the species' genitalia. The claspers are used for holding females during mating, which many times occurs forcefully.

Scorpionfly tail close up
Close up of the scorpion-like tail males have
Credit: "Skorpionsfliege Panorpa communis male genital" by Richard Bartz,
Munich aka Makro Freak Image:MFB.jpg - Own work.
Licensed under CC Attribution-Share Alike 2.5 via Wikimedia Commons

Female scorpionfly (no sting)
Female scorpionfly, No sting here!
"Panorpa communis 2006-07-11" by Algirdas at lt.wikipedia
Licensed under the GFDL
P. Communis larva resembles a caterpillar and grows up to 2 cm (~0.8 in) long. It has three pairs of thoracic legs and eight pairs of prolegs.

The adult form is usually seen between May and September, typically found crawling in hedgerows and patches of nettle. Adults eat dead insects (although they sometimes consume live aphids), which are occasionally stolen from spider webs. They may also eat rotting rotting vegetable matter.

Despite their large wings, flights are usually brief and short. They like to rest on the surface of leaves in dense shade.

Breeding usually occurs at night. Mating is sometimes a dangerous game for males, who might easily get killed by the female. To avoid this, the male first presents a nuptial gift of a dead insect or a mass of saliva to placate her. Consider it something like a box of chocolates or a bunch of roses!

The eggs are laid annually in the soil, and the larvae both scavenge and pupate there.

Conservation Status
The species is very common in Britain and is not believed to be under any immediate threat.

Do they sting?
Despite the ferocious appearance of males, the stinger-like genitalia are totally harmless. You have nothing to worry if you ever come across one!

Interesting Facts about the Common Scorpionfly
- The common scorpion fly belongs to an ancient group of insects known as 'Mecopterans' which can be traced back more than 250 million years. It's believed that butterflies and many other species of insect evolved from their ancestors.

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