Sunday, October 21, 2012
While identifying one of these oddities to species may present challenges, they're easily enough recognized as a scorpionfly. Most of the insect is colored a light amber hue, and the wings are rather boldly marked with black dashes. A closer look reveals a disproportionately long snout, or proboscis. It's as if an anteater's head was welded to a wasp.
It's the tail that is especially noteworthy, though, and is responsible for the insect's strange name. The tip of the abdomen and the terminal claspers are jointed, and held curled up over the back, exactly like a scorpion. The overall effect is quite cool, but as these animals are not especially large - about yellowjacket-sized - you have to get in close to appreciate the strange architecture.
Scorpionflies are not true flies, but belong to their own Order along with hangingflies and some others - the Mecoptera. They're the six-legged equivalent of vultures, making a living by scavenging on the remains of small animal life. As grotesque as this lifestyle may seem, the male scorpionfly is actually quite the charmer. He uses tasty bits of dead animal matter as an offering to prospective mates, thus wooing his partner with carrion. Watch for these fascinating insects perched atop leaves in the shrub layer of woodlands, or at rest on ground level leaf litter.