Arkansas Nature Trivia

A Flying Scorpion is Harmless

Scorpions are animals with four pairs of legs, and they are related to spiders. A structure that can deliver a painful sting is located at the end of the abdomen, and the scorpion often holds it in a curled position over the back. Scorpions do not have wings.

 Wings, however, are present on an insect (with only three pairs of legs) that is reddish-brown in coloration and looks like a scorpion. Called a "scorpionfly," this insect has a long abdomen that is held curled upward over the body. The species Panorpa nuptialis is found in the south-central United States, and the males reach about 25 mm (1 inch) in length. Scorpionflies are members of a primitive order named Mecoptera, which means "long wing." The stinger is actually the genitalia of the male (right photo), and it is harmless and cannot sting. Females lack the conspicuous genitalia. The wings are marked distinctly with dark brown or black bars across a clear amber background. Although the wings are rather large, flight in most species is of short duration, and the insect lands within a few feet of its previous position. The head also has a strange appearance because it is elongated into a beak, or rostrum, with the mouth located at the tip. Most species of scorpionflies are omnivores, so they feed on some plant materials (such as pollen and nectar) and also on dead or weakened insects. Males may court females through body posture and displays of the wings, but sometimes they offer a meal to attract a mate. The meal offered to a possible mate may be prey items or secretions from salivary glands, and females tend to prefer to mate with males that offer such a meal. Mating occurs while the female feeds on the "nuptial" meal, and those females that receive a meal usually produce more eggs. Males are believed to sometimes pose as females so they can take the nuptial meal away from a competitor, and by that get an advantage against their competitors for a mate. The eggs are laid in cracks in the soil, and adults emerge in late fall so they can be seen in October and November.