|female scorpionfly, order mecoptera, family panorpidae, genus panorpa, perhaps P. hungerfordi||2010-05-22||bushes in front of house|
Whoops. I had earlier misidentified this as a dobsonfly. It’s really a scorpionfly: order Mecoptera, family + genus probably Panorpidae + Panorpa.
While taking these photos, I had unfortunately not noticed the wonderful long rostrum or beak, so the mandibles in these photos are out of focus and at a poor angle. You can still see that they’re unexpectedly long, which gives the scorpionfly a slightly spooky aspect. This is quite well deserved: they are mainly feeders of carrion, and sometimes predators and eaters of nectar and rotting fruit. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, etc. Interestingly, one of the main ways they obtain food is stealing it from spiders’ webs. Have to wonder if they were looting the orchard spiders’ webs next to where the photo was taken.
The photos are of a female. If it were a male, there would be a scorpion-like “stinger” at the rear. This stinger is actually used for reproduction. Male scorpionflies, man. They look tough.
For more information about scorpionflies and their habits, please see: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scorpionfly or http://bugguide.net/node/view/9217 or, particularly, http://www.emporia.edu/ksn/v48n1-may2002/panorpidae.htm
A comparison of wing patterns is given here: http://www.biology.ualberta.ca/bsc/ejournal/cmw01/panwing.html. From what I can tell, this implies that our specimen is Panorpa hungerfordi , but it’s difficult to be sure.
There are several interesting facets to this family. They may have been the first pollinators, which means they were responsible for changing the face of evolution dramatically. Also, strangely enough, they are closely related to the fleas, and may even be considered in the same order.
The eggs are laid close to water, and the young ones actually look similar to caterpillars. For mating to occur, as with several other species, the male offers a gift to the female to lure her near. This gift is either a dead insect or a brown gelatinous salivary secretion — how’s a girl to choose when both options are that good?
On a personal note, even though identifying the order took some twists and turns, it does give me a lot more confidence going forward. I’ve been very intimidated by the complexities of insect taxonomy, but am game to keep trying!
This photo, though blurry, shows the wing pattern.
And here’s a closeup of those rather eerie eyes on the back of their head. These simple eyes are known as “ocelli”.