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Common Scorpionfly Panorpa communis

Two species of Scorpionflies are common in Britain: Panorpa communis en Panorpa vulgaris. Both scientific names mean common. So why it is Panorpa communis we refer to as the Common Scorpionfly is a msytery. Panorpa vulgaris is just as common. It has probably something to do with the fact that few people bother to identify the two species. Most nature lovers will stop at 'Scorpionfly' seeing one. The Common Scorpionfly has a wingspan of some 35 mm. It can be seen all summer, usually from May to the end of September. And that applies to his vulgar counterpart as well. Mating takes place on top of the leaf of a plant. The male spits a brown liquid on the surface of the leaf. The female will drink this liquid. The male then grasps her genitals with his scorpion tale. If he doesn't spit, she will suck on him! After mating the female lays here eggs in the soil. The larvae live in the soil eating dead animals or dead rotting plants. They look like a caterpillar, but they have 3 pairs of real legs and 8 pairs of prolegs. Pupation takes place underground as well. Scorpionflies are very common in the South of Britain and common in Wales. Uncommon in Southern Scotland and very rare in Northern Scotland.

Actually there are a few species. They all look alike, but you can tell them apart by looking carefully. Males are less of a problem than females. Their scorpion tale actually are the genitals and these differ per species. Females however can not be told apart from looking at their tale, so we have to look at other aspects. In Holland four species are common. Panorpa cognata is the first and easy to tell apart, for it has a red head. The head is black in all other species. Panorpa germanica can be told apart, for it has no continuous band of black spots on the wing. Panorpa vulgaris and Panorpa communis both do have a continuous black band running over the wing. So look at the first spot on the wing, looking from where the wing starts. The spot is usually quite small. But it is bigger in Panorpa vulgaris, completely spanning two cells in the wing. Panorpa vulgaris has a smaller spot, which usually remains in one cell only. Sometimes it does run into the next cell, but it never fills up that second cell. Anyway, that is how we know the animals in the pictures are all Panorpa communis.