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Scorpionflies (Order: Mecoptera)

A photograph of a female scorpionfly (_Panorpa panorpa_). Females do not possess the characteristic scorpion sting-like genitalia that gives scorpionflies their name.

A photograph of a female scorpionfly (Panorpa panorpa). Females do not possess the characteristic scorpion sting-like genitalia that gives scorpionflies their name.

This is an interesting group of insects, with around 300 species. Around 30 of these are found in Europe, but no more than half a dozen or so in the UK.

The head of a scorpionfly is shaped like a beak, and this is a feature that is useful in distinguishing them from other insects.

There are three main groups of scorpionflies:

Classification

The name of the order is derived from the Greek meco meaning long and pteron meaning wing, referring to the shape of both the front and hind wings in most species.

In evolutionary terms, this is an old group. It shows complete metamorphosis (egg, larva, pupa and adult stages) and may be the forerunner of other insects that have complete metamorphosis (butterflies, moths, caddis flies, true flies and fleas).

There are nine families of Mecoptera in all, though some of these are extinct and only described as fossils.

How to find them

For hanging flies or common scorpionflies, using a beating tray or sweep net among low shaded bushes between May and August may be effective. In the case of the snow scorpionflies, however, autumn and winter is the time to search for these. But unless you're collecting them for study, leave them untouched as snow scorpionflies can die just by being exposed to the warmth of the human hand.

Related links: Scorpionflies (Order: Mecoptera)

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