Is a Scorpion Fly Dangerous? Uncovering the Truth About This Intriguing Insect

Scorpionflies might look intimidating due to their unique appearance, resembling a blend of scorpion and wasp features. The males possess a scorpion-like tail, which can often spark fear in those who encounter them. However, it’s essential to properly understand this insect and its behavior before jumping to conclusions about its potential danger.

Contrary to their threatening appearance, scorpionflies are not dangerous to humans. The male’s scorpion-like tail is in fact harmless and is not capable of stinging. Moreover, although scorpionflies share some similarities with wasps, they don’t possess the stinging ability commonly associated with the latter. These fascinating insects serve as pollinators and also help control other insect populations, making them a vital part of our ecosystem.

Basic Information About Scorpion Flies

Mecoptera Order

Scorpion flies belong to the Mecoptera order of insects. These unique creatures have specific habitat preferences and environmental needs.

  • Prefer moist environments
  • Most active during cooler weather

Scorpion Fly Appearance

These interesting insects have some notable features:

  • Long-faced wasps resemblance
  • Wings are clear or light-colored with black patterns
  • Rusty or yellowish-brown body color1

Size and Identification

Scorpion flies can be easily identified by their distinct appearance:

  • Bulbous, upcurled “tail” in males
  • Harmless but resembles a scorpion stinger1
  • Small body size, typically about 1/5 inch long2

United States Distribution

Scorpion flies are arthropods found throughout the United States, although they are not as common in arid regions like Arizona.

  • Arthropod relatives include spiders, ticks, mites, and scorpions2
  • Diverse habitats but usually not in extremely dry areas

Behavior and Ecology

Diet and Predatory Behavior

Scorpionflies are intriguing arthropods found in moist habitats like hedgerows and forests. They are not dangerous to humans, despite their intimidating appearance. Their diet primarily consists of dead insects, making them essential players in the decomposition process within their ecosystems. Scorpionflies occasionally feed on living insects, showcasing their predatory behavior. For example, they might catch and consume butterflies. A scorpionfly’s pincers are useful tools for capturing prey, but they do not pose any threat to people.

As nocturnal creatures, scorpionflies are most active during nighttime hours. This helps them to avoid many potential predators, which are typically active during the day.

Reproduction and Lifecycle

Scorpionflies exhibit a fascinating reproductive behavior involving nuptial gifts. Males present females with a food item, like a dead insect, to increase the chances of successful mating. This unique process ensures that scorpionflies reproduce without conflict and stress.

The lifecycle of a scorpionfly consists of four stages: egg, larval, pupal, and adult. Eggs are laid in moist environments, and once they hatch, the young larvae begin to consume dead insects. During their growth, they go through several stages, shedding their exoskeletons to accommodate for their enlarging bodies. After the larval stage, they pupate and eventually emerge as adults with fully developed wings, genitals, and even a scorpion-like tail in males. The tail and abdomen, though visually striking, do not serve any dangerous purpose and are ultimately used for reproduction.

Is a Scorpion Fly Dangerous?

Scorpion Fly Stings and Bites

Scorpion flies are unique insects with long faces that look like wasps. Males have a bulbous, upcurled “tail” often mistaken as a scorpion’s stinger; however, this tail is completely harmless1. In fact, scorpion flies do not possess stingers and do not bite humans.

In contrast, scorpions are arachnids that have a venomous stinger on their tails. They use their stingers to defend themselves or predating other insects.

Scorpion Flies:

  • No stingers
  • Do not bite humans
  • Inept to cause harm

Scorpions:

  • Possess venomous stingers
  • Can sting humans
  • Capable of causing harm

Allergic Reactions and Symptoms

Since scorpion flies do not sting or bite humans, they do not pose allergy risks. Meanwhile, scorpion stings may cause symptoms like pain, numbness, swelling, drooling, nausea, or vomiting2. In more severe cases, symptoms may include difficulty breathing, muscle twitching, high blood pressure, and excitability.

Out of the 1,500 known scorpion species, only 25 have a sting potent enough to be dangerous to humans. The bark scorpion is one such species and is common in California. Bark scorpion stings can cause severe symptoms in some people, particularly young children, which could lead to complications like respiratory failure and, rarely, death. It is crucial to seek immediate medical care in case of a scorpion sting.

Prevention and Control

Tips for Avoiding Scorpion Flies

  • Keep your surroundings clean and clutter-free
  • Seal gaps and cracks in walls, doors, and windows
  • Install screens on windows and doors
  • Remove woodpiles and other potential hiding spots

Scorpion flies, from families Panorpidae and Bittacidae, are not as dangerous as other scorpion species, such as the Arizona bark scorpion. However, it’s essential to take preventive measures in areas where they are common, such as the U.S.

Dealing with Infestations

  • Regularly inspect your home for signs of infestation
  • Use traps or pesticides for pests and mites, if necessary
  • Seek professional help for severe cases

While mature snow scorpionflies can cause discomfort, they rarely require medical attention. Symptoms like convulsions, cramps, and paralysis are uncommon and typically associated with more dangerous scorpion species.

Scorpion Species Danger Level Symptoms
Scorpion Flies Low Discomfort
Arizona Bark Scorpion High Convulsions, Cramps, Paralysis

In conclusion, while scorpion flies may not pose a significant threat, it’s essential to keep your environment clean and take preventive measures to minimize contact and avoid potential infestations.

Scientific and Cultural Significance

Role in Forensic Entomology

Scorpion flies play a part in forensic entomology, as they are known to feed on decaying matter. For instance, they are often found around corpses. Forensic scientists can use these insects to estimate the time of death.

Evolution and Relation to Other Insects

Scorpion fly evolution is fascinating due to their unique features. For example, their elongated heads resemble a scorpion’s tail, but they lack venom and aren’t dangerous. They have an ancient lineage and are more closely related to endopterygote insects, like bees and butterflies, than true flies.

Some key features of scorpion flies:

  • Elongated heads
  • Not dangerous to humans
  • Ancient lineage
  • More closely related to bees and butterflies than true flies

Scorpion flies vs. true flies:

Scorpion Flies True Flies
Non-venomous Some are venomous
Elongated heads No elongated head
No pinchers Often have pinchers
Ancient lineage Modern lineage

Scorpion flies play a crucial role in pollination by feeding on pollen. This helps plants reproduce and spread, which supports ecosystems and is essential for our food supply.

Overall, scorpion flies are interesting and essential members of the natural world, with roles in forensic entomology, pollination, and fascinating evolutionary relationships.

Footnotes

  1. (https://mdc.mo.gov/discover-nature/field-guide/common-scorpionflies) 2 3
  2. (https://extension.umn.edu/insect-relatives/pseudoscorpions) 2 3

Reader Emails

Over the years, our website, whatsthatbug.com has received hundreds of letters and some interesting images asking us about these insects. Scroll down to have a look at some of them.

Letter 1 – Scorpion-Fly

 

What is this bug?
Bugman,
I’ve been searching for hours to find out what this bug is, but can’t seem to find a similar picture anywhere. Any ideas what it might be?
Thanks,
Rob

Hi Rob,
We are very excited to get your letter since we are able to start a brand new page with your photo of a Scorpion-Fly. This is the first we have received. Scorpion-Flies belong to the order Mecoptera. Despite their fierce name, they are harmless, unless you are an injured insect. Adults are usually found on foliage near shaded streams in damp woods. Thanks for the photo. Sadly, the site is currently down and will not return until October.

Letter 2 – Scorpionflies attracted to Cat Food!!!

 

Subject: Wasp with a skorpion like body
Location: Central, Texas
October 25, 2012 10:55 am
I found several on a mound of wet cat food.
Signature: Lone Star

Subject: More Skorpion Fly pictures
Location: Central, Texas
October 25, 2012 1:13 pm
Like I said before there was 5 of them on my cats wet food. Thanks in advance for your help.
Signature: Lone Star

Scorpionfly

Dear Lone Star,
We are fascinated by Scorpionflies being attracted to cat food.  According to BugGuide:  “Adults feed mainly on dead/dying insects, rarely on nectar/fruit” but nothing about cat food.  We much prefer live Scorpionflies to dead ones.  They are not harmful to cats or humans, and our instincts lead us to believe that this is Unnecessary Carnage.

Scorpionflies

Daniel,
Thank you for the info & your quick reply.
I had never seen one & with all the invasive specie these days, I was concerned.

Letter 3 – Scorpionfly

 

Please help !
Hi there.
I have been looking at picture of bugs and flies all over the internet for hours and I can’t seem to find anything that looks like the one I found, (see attached) I found it on my living room window in Munster Germany (Mid August). it was about 15 mm in length, with a red-ish colour. I was wondering if you could help identify it for me as I have small children and am worried that they might bite. Thank you.
Mrs Dwyer, Munster, Germany

Hi Mrs Dwyer,
Despite its name and appearance, the Scorpionfly is perfectly harmless.

Letter 4 – Scorpionfly

 

Scorpionfly
Location: Austin, TX
October 31, 2010 1:36 pm
Hi, thought you’d like this picture I took of a male scorpionfly on the rock wall of our house (Austin, TX, on 10/27/10). It was about 1-1.5 inches long. I didn’t know what it was until I found it on your site.
Signature: Lauren

Scorpionfly

Hi Lauren,
Your photo clearly illustrates why harmless creatures in the family Panorpidae are commonly called Scorpionflies

Letter 5 – Scorpionfly

 

Subject: Never seen before by me
Location: south Missouri
September 20, 2012 1:34 pm
I have never seen this insect before and lately, there are several. It has a black elongated snout and black legs, with a red body, ending with a tail like a scorpion. It’s wings are black and orange.
I observed one rubbing it’s front legs on a dead cricket and then it’s snout repeatedly.
Signature: Pach

Scorpionfly

Hi Pach,
Your verbal description is spot-on since this is a Scorpionfly in the genus
Panorpa which you can verify on BugGuide where it states:  “Adults feed mainly on dead/dying insects, rarely on nectar/fruit:  Larvae scavenge on decaying organic matter or dead insects; may prey on soil insects.”  Bugguide also has this wonderful information:  “Mating behavior: the male offers some kind of food (a dead insect or a piece of a brown salivary secretion that becomes gelatinous as it dries) and emits a pheromone (an air-borne chemical signal) from vesicles within the abdominal segment 9. A female is attracted to the pheromone or the food, whereupon the male grasps the end of her abdomen with the claw-like genital appendages (dististyles) and clamps the front edge of one of the female’s forewings in a structure on the mid-dorsal part of his abdominal segments 3 and 4 (the notal organ). Mating then takes place as the female feeds.(8)
Adults may emit an unpleasant odor when molested.”

Authors

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  • Bugman

    Bugman aka Daniel Marlos has been identifying bugs since 1999. whatsthatbug.com is his passion project and it has helped millions of readers identify the bug that has been bugging them for over two decades. You can reach out to him through our Contact Page.

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  • Piyushi Dhir

    Piyushi is a nature lover, blogger and traveler at heart. She lives in beautiful Canada with her family. Piyushi is an animal lover and loves to write about all creatures.

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