The mecoptera insect order consists of several species of scorpion flies, so named for the curvaceous male abdomens that resemble scorpion stings. Some mecopteran insects, such as the Harpobittacus, like to catch insects with their rear legs while holding onto plant life with their front legs. For this reason, scorpion flies are sometimes called hanging flies.
Determining which insects fit into the myriad of insect orders requires comparing characteristics from one species to another. For instance, according to a report by Charlma Phillips, a Principal Forest Health Scientist, scorpion fly insects belong to the mecoptera order because they characteristically grow two sets of wings. True flies, on the other hand, belong to the insect order Diptera because they have only one set of wings.
If coming across insects from the mecoptera order, whether deliberately or by accident, a way to identify species belonging to this group is to look for the characteristics detailed below. Included is information about mecoptera diets, mating habits, and predacious enemies.
Using houseflies as a comparison, adult scorpion flies have long slender bodies as opposed to short wide bodies. Their legs are much longer and spread much further out from their bodies than housefly legs. Scorpion flies vary in color and some, such as the Harpobittacus, are dark brown to black. Adults measure at just over a half an inch which is only slightly larger than the advanced staged larvae of the order.
As stated above, scorpion flies have two sets of wings. Reaching from their heads to the bottom of their abdomens, the wings lay flat across their bodies when they are not flying. All wings are roughly the same size when compared to one another. Depending on the particular species, mecoptera wings are net-veined, may be transparent, and some sport designs in stripes or spots.
Scorpion flies also have elongated heads with thin mouthparts that somewhat resemble elephant trunks. Their antennae are long and have several segmented sections. Baby or young scorpion fly larvae look a bit like caterpillars.
Mecoptera insects are predators that eat other insects including moths, flies, aphids, spiders, caterpillars, and beetle larvae. The harpobittacus is quite noticeable when hanging from twigs to catch prey. They do not attempt to hide from prey while waiting to catch flying insects with their four rear legs, however, coloration may allow them to blend with trees or foliage. In addition to meat, mecoptera also eat nectar.
The curving extension located at the tips of male mecopteran insect abdomens are actually mating organs. Some males lure females by offering them prey in order to distract them with the food. Females in these species may not eat until the mating process begins. While copulating, female flies in this order drop their eggs to the ground. Some eggs are round, however, the harpobittacus species lays cube-shaped eggs. Regardless of shape, mecoptera eggs are durable and formulated to resist drying out. Once mating is over, the females eat the males.
Once eggs hatch, mecoptera larvae make homes within damp soil or debris in which they can maneuver about with ease. Even at this stage, some mecoptera species seek out live food. Other species satisfy themselves by eating dead animal or plant remains. Once they complete their fourth larval stage, mecoptera pupate underground for about one month before emerging as adult insects.
In addition to hanging around to catch prey, mecopteran insects prefer crawling to flying. They enjoy loitering in moist areas such as banks located near small bodies of water. They also like lounging about in moist woods.
As the saying goes, "dog eat dog world", mecoptera live in an insect eat insect world. While mecoptera insects prey on other species of insects, other species return the favor by praying on them as well. Their insect enemies include assassin bugs, asilid flies, damselflies, and spiders.
According to FossilMuseum.Net, the mecoptera insect order consists of a good 500 extant species. Spotting adult mecoptera is more likely to occur in the spring, however, it is possible to locate them on plants in the heat of summer or the cool of autumn as well.