Monday, May 8, 2023


Trunks aren’t just for elephants, there is a unique insect in Missouri called a scorpionfly that has a schnoz any elephant would envy. This appendage contains the chewing mouthparts at the end of it, but why do they need such an exaggerated beak? Maybe it is a thing of beauty in the world of scorpionflies. These insects are not related to scorpions or flies at all, so their name is a bit of a misnomer, as they are in a family of insects all  their own. I personally think “elephantfly” would have been a more fitting name. Their name comes from the scorpion-like appendage at the tip of the male’s abdomen. Females lack this appendage, so the appendage is an accurate way to tell males from females. They cannot sting with their scorpion-like tail, nor do they bite, in fact they are completely harmless.

Maple callous borer
 Another insect encountered in the same area as the scorpionfly is the maple callous borer. It looks so similar to the scorpionfly, mistaken identity is common. 


There are fifty-five species of scorpionflies throughout the Eastern United States and Canada. Most have black patterned wings that are held back over their body. They have a short fluttery flight that rarely takes them more than a few feet away at a time, However, they are wary of disturbances, making them incredibly difficult to approach. 


The species pictured here is Panorpa nuptialis, they may reach lengths up to one inch or a little more. This particular species is found in South Central United States. They are found from central Missouri southward, and I photographed this one at Truman Lake State Park near the lake on some flowers.

They are omnivores and feed predominantly on insects, which makes them beneficial to humans. They will sometimes feed on pollen or nectar. There has been some indication that they will appear on human carcasses. While this is a deviation from their normal diet, if this option is available to them, they will take advantage of it. These insects may be useful for forensic scientists who investigate murders. As they are only known to appear during the first stages of decomposition. Therefore, the appearance of multiple scorpionflies feeding on a carcass, would indicate the body has not been deceased for very long. Forensic scientists have long used insects to help determine the closest approximate date of death to help investigators in solving crimes.

 Scorpionflies have an interesting mating ritual. 


Males will typically offer females a nuptial gift in the form of a juicy insect morsel. Males also emit a pheromone from their abdomen. Females are often drawn to the male by the powerful chemical cocktail that he produces or perhaps his gift is what entices her. Most human females appreciate a good smelling man bearing gifts, seems these female scorpionflies do as well. The scorpion-like tail of the male is used as a clasper for mating with females. In some instances, the males are living life on the edge in the mating game. If a female is not receptive to his advances, she may well make a meal of him. Hence the offering of an insect gift, keep her occupied with eating the “chocolates” he so lovingly brought her, and lessen his chances of losing his head in the process. Mating will occur as the female feeds on her tasty gift. Males will sometimes pose as females in order to "steal" the potential nuptial gift meant for an intended mate. This gives the male a leg up in the mating game. After all, stealing a gift meant for a potential mate, means the rival male has to work harder to replace his gift. 

Females lay their eggs in cracks or crevices in the soil. The larvae feed on dead soft-bodied insects. They will emerge as adults sometime in the fall and will be found from September through November. Look for them on low shrubs and ground cover in densely vegetated woodlands, often near water; grasslands; cultivated fields and forest borders. The adults are usually seen resting on leaves in shaded areas less than three feet from the ground. Adults may emit an offensive odor if disturbed. I personally have never smelled this obnoxious odor, but then again, I’ve never grabbed one. 

Spring is here, and along with the return of warm weather, will also be the return of all those insects. Many people groan at the thought, but I for one am excited at the new discoveries that await me. The diversity in the insect world is as limitless as your imagination.

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