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Scorpionflies

Scorpionflies Feeding On Carcasses

You can recognize a Scorpionfly (Order Mecoptera) by its long head which bears mouthparts at the end of a long beak. Its common name comes from the tail of one family of scorpionflies in which the male scorpionfly has prominent genitalia that are curled back up over the insect’s body (much like a scorpion).  They are, however, harmless.   Scorpionflies feed only on dead insects and have been known to raid spider webs for their meal.

Males with insect carcasses are said to acquire receptive females with relative ease.  Lacking a carcass, males have been known to throw up and use the spittle as a lure for females who feed on it while copulating with the male. (Photo:  Scorpionfly drinking innards of dead caterpillar)

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Snow Scorpionflies Active

2-15-17-snow-scorpionfly-039On mild winter days you may wish to look closely at all the dark, little specks on the surface of the snow. Most of them will be bits of lichen, seeds or pieces of bark, but with luck you may find one or more of them moving. Active winter insects aren’t plentiful, but they do exist.

Scorpionflies are fairly common and can be recognized by their long beaks ending in visible mouthparts. (They get their name from one family of scorpionflies that possesses a scorpion-like tail.)  Snow Scorpionflies belong to a family of small, flightless insects, of which there are two species in the Northeast. They only measure about 2/10’s of an inch, so careful scrutiny is necessary to spot one. Their dark color and an anti-freeze substance in their blood allows them to remain active to 21°F., during which time they feed on mosses. When startled, Snow Scorpionflies often jump up in the air and land with their legs crumpled up (see insert) looking even more like an inedible speck of dirt. It’s fairly easy to tell their gender, as female Snow Scorpionflies (photo) lack wings, and males have bristly wings adapted for grasping females.

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