When is a scorpion not a scorpion? When it’s a fly, with a tail that looks like a scorpion – but only in the males and, even then, the sting can’t actually sting – it is, in fact, his genitals! This may be Panorpa communis but there are three species of scorpion fly in Britain and to distinguish between them you need to examine – you guessed it! – their genitals! (In the photos below, the male is on the left.)
While we’re on the subject of genitals, mating can be very risky for the male of the species, as females have been known to kill their mates. To divert the females, it seems the males have a trick up their sleeves under their wings – to woo the fly of their dreams, they offer up a gift of their own saliva which, apparently, works a treat.
Lurking in hedgerows and woodlands, and particularly partial to nettle-filled areas, scorpion flies feed on dead insects. They are also known as hanging flies, from their habit of camouflaging themselves by dangling from leaves and twigs in order to pounce on the small unsuspecting critters that pass by. They are truly bizarre-looking creatures but completely harmless and rather comical to watch.