The Scorpion Fly is neither a fly nor a scorpion yet resembles both, it is one of Britain’s most distinctive insects and one of my personal favourites. They are fairly common, especially in hedges, and are easily identifiable with their patterned wings, long beak and scorpion-like abdomen (which females lack). They are usually quite approachable and docile, unlike true flies, allowing close observation of these strange invertebrates.
- Britain is host to three species of Scorpion fly in the genus Panorpus, although they can only be separated by examining the genitalia! They can be seen from May to September in woods and hedges across Britain, usually sitting on vegetation.
- Scorpion Flies are in the order Mecoptera (meaning ‘long wings’) which also includes hanging-flies and the Snow Flea. This group of insects are distinct from true flies (Diptera) and have an ancient lineage – some species being ‘living fossils’. They are morphologically distinct from other groups due to their beak-like mouth parts, two pairs of wings (unlike flies that have one pair) and strange shaped abdomens.
- The curved and swollen tip of males abdomens contain their genitals and is used during courtship display.
- Males are often eaten by the females during courtship or mating, so they attempt to placate the females by presenting a droplet of spittle or a ball of dead flies.
- They are largely carnivorous in diet but shy away from catching live prey – preferring to take on the role of scavenger, often by stealing prey from spiders webs, they may also eat ripe fruit.
- Eggs are laid in the soil and the larvae (which resemble caterpillars) then live and pupate either on or just below the surface.