Scorpionflies look scary, but harmless to people
When I am outdoors, I tend to use my cellphone to photograph the interesting critters that I see. Some bugs are more cooperative than others. I was at the Heard Natural Science Museum & Wildlife Sanctuary in the Dallas area hiking their trails when I saw this interesting creature. Cellphones allow you to zoom in and actually get a lot of detail. After I get a photo, I use the iNaturalist app on my phone to upload the photo to work on getting identification. iNaturalist in both the app and the website analyzes the photo and comes up with several choices for a preliminary identification. Then other nature enthusiasts either confirm or correct the preliminary identification. My bug had distinctive black and orange bands on its wings. The preliminary identification was scorpion fly, Panorpa nuptialis, and the identification has been confirmed by three other members.
After learning about a new species, I like to look up information and learn more. It turns out that the scorpionfly is common in Texas wooded areas and vegetated ravines. They are roughly one inch long, with a reddish body with those distinctive banded wings. The antennae are long and thin. The chewing mouthparts are at the end of a long snout. Adults and larvae feed on dead insects, other animal matter. The abdomens are long with an end curve upward giving the appearance of a scorpion. While the tail looks intimidating, it is not a stinging tail; rather it is used for mating. The tail has horns that help it hold on to the female during the mating process. Males vibrate their wings to attract a female and then present her with saliva that may have food in it for her.
Scorpion flies have several life stages, egg, four instars, prepupa, pupa, and adult. Eggs are deposited in soil in cracks and crevices. The larva look like caterpillars, ringed with dark spots and short bristles. Lavae live on the soil surface. Winter is spent pupated in the soil before emerging as adults in the fall. Adults live nearly a month.
This scorpionfly also has some interesting forensic connections. According to the Washington Post, a researcher doing forensic field tests on human corpses was expecting to see lots of blowflies. Instead the first animal to arrive was the scorpionfly. The Scorpionflies were not only feeding on the cadaver, but they were also doing their mating dance and copulation. Forensic entomologists study which bugs come to corpses and the order in which they come to better determine how long a person has been dead.