• Kirk Mason

Scorpionflies – Flying Scorpions or Booty Snatching Pirates?

Scorpionflies are one of my favourite insects to photograph. They have such interesting body features and seem extremely vigilant – making them easily spooked and often tricky to get a nice shot of! This is unsurprising when some of their natural enemies are fearsome flying predators such as damselflies.


One of the first things you may notice about the scorpion fly is its long face. You would have a long face too, if you were so commonly misunderstood!



Firstly, they are not scorpions or arachnids, but insects belonging to the order Mecoptera. You can see how they are easily confused for scorpions when you hear their name and see the “tail” of the males. It might look like a sting but is actually a massive set of genitals! Scorpionflies are absolutely harmless to humans, so don’t be frightened if you find one. In fact, I challenge you to watch it for a while and see what it does. Why?


Thievery is in their genes. Their closest living relatives? Fleas. Though instead of stealing blood, they are opportunistic scavengers of dead insects and carrion. Some scorpionflies prefer precious booty stolen from a dangerous foe – insects trapped in a spider’s web!


The scorpion fly cheekily feeds on the spider’s larder whilst in the web and will sometimes scarper with a larger meal in its mandibles. If challenged by a smaller spider, the scorpion fly may headbutt it and males may strike the spider with its genitals. Something I for one, hope to never have to do to a spider in my lifetime…





Amazingly, scorpionflies can often walk around on the web without any issue. However, spiders lay devious traps. If the scorpion fly manages to get tangled up in the web, it has a solution (literally!). The tangled scorpion fly regurgitates a brown liquid on the trapped limb, dissolving the web and freeing them from the clutches of the resident spider – but not always in time.


Nobody said a pirate’s life is an easy one!





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