Helen’s scorpionfly

(Panorpa helena)

Conservation Status
Helen’s scorpionfly
  IUCN Red List

not listed

     
  NatureServe

NNR - Unranked

     
  Minnesota

not listed

     
           
           
           
           
           
           
           
 
Description
 
 

Helen’s scorpionfly is the most abundant and widely distributed common scorpionfly of the genus Panorpa in North America. However, it does not occur in the west, it is absent from Quebec, and it is uncommon in Ontario.

The body is soft, slender, cylindrical, and to 1 long. The upper plate covering the thorax (pronotum) has an orangish tint. The abdomen is slender and has 10 segments. On the male, segments 2 through 5 are pale brown, 6 through 9 are orangish brown. The male genitalia on segment 10 are large, bulbous, pear-shaped, and curved upward and forward. They are similar in appearance to a scorpion’s stinger. The female abdomen is similar to the male but tapers to a blunt point and lacks the stinger-like genitalia on segment 10.

The legs are long, slender, and pale brown. At the end of the leg the part corresponding to the foot (tarsus) has five segments (tarsi) and two claws. The tarsi are blackish at the end (apex).

The head is orangish-brown and extremely elongated downward, snout-like, ending in biting mouthparts. The neck is distinct. The compound eyes are large, well-developed, and silvery gray. The antennae are thread-like, black, and long, more than half as long as the body, and have at least 14 segments.

The four wings are long, narrow, membranous and yellowish. Forewings and hindwings are about the same size. They have numerous veins and cross veins; three dark brown bands, apical, pterostigmal, and basal; and three dark brown spots. The apical and pterostigmal bands are continuous. The basal band is usually continuous, sometimes broken. There is a small spot on the margin in the clear area separating each band, and one small basal spot.

The larvae resemble small caterpillars, with eight short leg-like structures (prolegs) and numerous hair-like growths (setae).

 
     
 

Size

 
 

Total Length: ½ to 1

Wingspan: up to 1

 
     
 

Similar Species

 
     
     
 
Habitat
 
 

Moist areas with dense low shrubbery, especially deciduous woods and adjacent open areas

 
     
 
Biology
 
 

Season

 
 

May to September

 
     
 

Behavior

 
 

They are usually found standing on leaves in a shaded area less than one meter from the ground.

Despite the male’s fierce appearance, scorpionflies do not sting or bite.

 
     
 

Life Cycle

 
 

Eggs are laid in masses on the ground. Larvae live in burrows in the ground, coming out only to hunt for insect prey. They overwinter in underground cells as pupae. Adults emerge in May.

 
     
 

Larva Food

 
 

Organic matter and insects.

 
     
 

Adult Food

 
 

Mostly dead or dying insects, sometimes taken from a spider’s web; sometimes fruit or nectar

 
     
 
Distribution
 
 

Distribution Map

 

Sources

7, 27, 29, 30.

 
  1/19/2020      
         
 

Occurrence

 
 

Common and widespread in eastern North America

 
         
 
Taxonomy
 
 

Order

Mecoptera (scorpionflies and hangingflies)  
 

Family

Panorpidae (common scorpionflies)  
 

Genus

Panorpa  
       
 

Synonyms

 
 

 

 
       
 

Common Names

 
 

Helen’s scorpionfly

 
       

 

 

Identification

Positive identification of common scorpionflies usually involves dissection and examination of the male genitalia under a microscope. However, wing markings are also useful. For a plate showing wing markings of twelve Panorpa species, see Mecoptera of Ontario, Wings Ontario species of Panorpa.

 

Glossary

Pronotum

The saddle-shaped, exoskeletal plate on the upper side of the first segment of the thorax of an insect.

 

Proleg

A fleshy structure on the abdomen of some insect larvae that functions as a leg, but lacks the five segments of a true insect leg.

 

Pterostigma

The dark, blood-filled second cell at the leading edge of each wing toward the tip on many insects. It is heaver than adjacent, similar sized areas and is thought to dampen wing vibrations and signal mates. (= stigma. More precise than stigma but less often used, even by entomologists.)

 

Pupa

The life stage of some insects undergoing transformation. In caterpillars, the chrysalis. Plural: pupae.

 

Seta

A usually rigid bristle- or hair-like outgrowth on butterflies and moths used to sense touch. Plural: setae.

 

Tarsus

The last two to five subdivisions of an insect’s leg, attached to the tibia; the foot. Plural: tarsi.

 

 

 

 

 

     
 
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Other Videos
 
  Invertebrate Short Clips: Panorpa helena
Daily Entomologist
 
   
 
About

Published on Mar 13, 2018

This invertebrate short clip was shot in McDonald County, Missouri 2016

 
       

 

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Created: 4/4/2018

Last Updated:

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