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by Valerie

November, 2005


male Scorpionfly

Many people have never seen a scorpionfly (Panorpa nuptialis) but they are fairly common around central Texas. Unlike myriad insect groups, the family Panorpidae, to which the common scorpionflies belong, is rather small. Of the more than 40 species found in North America, only one occurs in our state. The insects are about 3/4 inch long and tend to look like black and orange moths from a distance. The females do not have the namesake tail, which is actually the male genitalia. No, it does not sting and, in fact, scorpionflies are harmless to people. The strange elongated mouth is at least as unique as the male's unusual tail.

These insects, while definitely a curiosity, have no economic importance. They never occur in large numbers, although they are not rare either. The larvae eat insects or other organic material on the ground. The adults eat dead insects as well, but also feed on nectar and fruit. They have the ability to steal prey out of spider webs, making them kleptoparasites. To this end, I've seen them actually land on a web and then fly off without getting stuck. Scorpionflies are most easily found at the edge of wooded areas, often resting on plants.

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