September 2012 - Scorpion Fly

Scorpion Fly - photo taken by Lin in garden Bawburgh

Keith and I were sitting in the garden a couple of weeks ago, when I noticed a very strange looking insect on his shoulder. I shot inside the house to get my camera telling him not to move a muscle in case it flew away. Luckily it didn't and I was able to photo this extraordinary scorpion fly. This insect belongs to an ancient group which can be traced back to more than 250 million years, preceding butterflies and many other insects which are thought to have evolved from their ancestors.

Scorpion flies are found throughout the UK from May to September, inhabiting hedgerows, nettle beds and brambles. Their heads are extended into a beak like structure with tiny jaws situated at the end, which they use to scavenge dead insects, frequently stolen from spiders webs. The males have a  distinctive scorpion like tail, hence the name scorpion fly. Unlike scorpions, however, this tail does not sting and in fact its only function is to hold the female with claspers, located at its end, during mating. Black widow spider springs to mind when describing the female scorpion fly, as mating can be a dangerous time for the male insect, and the female may decide to kill him. He tries to appease her and keep her happy with a nuptual gift of a drop of saliva or morsel of dead insect, which in the world of scorpion flies is the equivalent of a bunch of roses or a box of chocolates. Eggs are laid in the soil, with the larva emerging as caterpillars which live on the surface of the soil. They then pupate to emerge as adults. There is only one generation a year.

My thanks to Geoff Garnham for his interesting e-mail on kingfishers. Geoff lives in the Mill and has a view up and down the river. Not this year, but in previous years he has seen a whole family of 4-5 birds perching on the back of the rowing boat just behind the Mill. What a wonderful site that must have been! Has anyone else any interesting facts about wildlife round and about Bawburgh?

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