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Scorpion Fly on leaf.jpg
Scientific Classification
A member of the family Bittacidae lying in wait for its prey.
Hanging Scorpionfly.jpg

Scorpionfly is the common name for the species of insects belonging to the taxonomic order Mecoptera. Mecoptera is taken from from two Greek words, "meco" (long) and "ptera" (wings).[1] There are about 500 species worldwide. They can be found in various locations around the world, but most frequently in damp forest areas. [2] They have a low ecological impact and aren't known for being pests because they have never been seen in large enough numbers to harm another group of organisms.[3] They are differentiated from other arthropods in their genitalia which, in males, can resemble the stinger of a scorpion.[4]


The 'scorpion stinger' of a scorpionfly.

Scorpionflies receive their common name from their largest families, Panorpidae and Boridae, whose males have enlarged genitals that resemble a scorpion's stinger.[5] The other families within Mecoptera are known as "hanging flies" for their tendency to hang on leaves while they catch prey and copulate.[6]

Mecopterans are small, slender insects. They have an elongated head that extends downwards.[7] Their head consists of a beak, antennae, and two large eyes. [8] This beak is augmented by long mandibles, maxilla, and labium. Long and segmented antennae protrude from the top of the head. [9]

The abdomen differs among families, but it generally consists of 11 segments. [10] The main variation between families is their genital region. In some types, the abdomen is swollen in the latter segments, creating the appearance of a scorpion's stinger. Although it bears resemblance, it is in no way venomous, and is used during reproduction.

The order Mecoptera receives its name from its long slender wings. Four wings of equal size run down the length of the insect's body.[11] Some species are also known to have two wings or none at all in secondary stages.[12]


Members of Mecoptera undergo complete metamorphosis. This involves four stages: egg, larva, pupa, and adult.

Scorpionflies can only reproduce sexually, meaning that there are separate genders. Reproductive strategies vary throughout the families within Mecoptera. The two most common methods are attracting a female with pheromones and food or forced copulation. [13] The first method is most commonly used. The male will get another dead arthropod, such as a caterpillar, and secrete pheromones. The female, attracted by the pheromones will come and start feeding on whatever food the male has collected. If it is acceptable, the female will stay and copulation will begin. If it is not, the female will leave to find a more acceptable offering. If copulation is successful, the pheromones immediately wear off and the female starts laying eggs.

Another method of mating is forced copulation. In this method the male rushes at the female and subdues her. Though often successful, it has been proven that the female will not lay as many eggs after such an attempt. The male usually only resorts to this method after being rejected when offering food.[14] Other methods observed include the male vibrating his wings to attract a mate.[15]

Mecopteran eggs are unique in the fact that they expand as the embryo grows. The stages of development can take a few days to a few months. Once the eggs have hatched, the larva stays in dark, damp areas.[16] It will sustain itself by feeding on decaying matter. The larva are unusual in that they have fully developed compound eyes, where most other insects don't. The pupa stage occurs in the soil, where it takes about a month for the adult to emerge.[17]


Panorpa communis feeding
There are about 500 species of Mecoptera and nine families worldwide. The majority of these reside in the northern hemisphere, but there are several species that live further south.[18] They can be found all over the world, but they are far from being common. In comparison with other insects, they make up a very small portion of the population.[19] Most Mecopterans that are commonly seen are members of the families Panorpodae and Bittacidae.[20]

Scorpionflies are mostly detritivores, feeding on decaying animal matter.[21] One of the families, Panorpa, will even steal trapped insects out of a spider's web. They will also feed on fruits, plants, pollen, and mosses.[22] Another family, Bittacidae, will hunt their prey. They hang from foliage using long legs and catch prey that passes by.[23] Because of their diet and lack of numbers in most areas, they are never considered pests nor do they have a large environmental impact.[24]

Identifying Scorpionflies

Scorpionflies can sometimes be difficult to find because of their similar appearance to crane flies.[25] Even with their similar appearance, they are very different, especially in the fact that Mecopterans are not even flies.[26] The most visible differences are its scorpion-like tail and its extra set of wings. The majority of scorpionflies that people encounter are of either of the families Panorpidae or Bittacidae. They can be found by searching leaves in areas that are their habitats, usually in dense woods. They are active at both day and night.[27]



  • Mecoptera author unknown,, accessed 11/26/2010
  • Scorpion Flies author unknown,, accessed 11/18/2010
  • Mecoptera Kari MacLauchlin,, accessed 11/15/2010.
  • The Scorpion Flies Gordon Ramel,, accessed 11/15/2010.
  • Mecoptera John R. Meyer,, accessed 11/15/2010.
  • Order Mecoptera author unknown,, accessed 11/15/2010.