Scorpionfly Stingers Are Actually Horns Used for Mating

Scorpionflies are incredibly strange-looking insects. They are basically black and yellow flies with scorpion-like tail on the tips of their abdomens that, thankfully, aren’t for stinging humans. These stingers are actually used by the males in courtship displays. One genus of scorpionfly, Dicerapanorpa, actually has evolved a sneaky technique to help the males catch mates, which can be dangerous for them, and prolong the copulation process in order to better ensure their genes being passed on to the next generation. The males of the Dicerapanorpa genus have a pair of “anal horns” just forward of the stinger, which help the males to grasp and hold of the females to keep them from escaping while they are trying to mate with them. This would usually seem rather dangerous for the females, except they seem to be the ones that wear the pants in this relationship and are known to kill the males during mating.

The courtship process between scorpionflies is a very long and drawn-out event. The males first release sex pheromones to attract females to them. While doing this, the male also does a kind of courtship dance, vibrating his wings to show them off to the female and moving his abdomen up and down at the same time. This can literally last for hours. Once a female finally approaches the male, he uses his anal horns to grab onto her abdomen and lock her in his embrace for a good 70 to 140 minutes. The females don’t submit easily, though, and will start to twist her body and vibrating her wings to shake off the male that has just grabbed her. This is where other genuses of scorpionfly males tend to get killed. These ladies are clearly not to be messed with.

To try and get the female to cooperate and get back to the business at hand, the males will give them a “nuptial gift” at this point, which is secreted from their salivary gland. Both parties pause for a moment while the female inspects the nuptial gift, tasting it and hopefully deciding to ultimately eat it and let the male get back to business. When she successfully accepts the gift and is tucking into her treat, the male then continues the process of copulation while the female is distracted. For males from a different genus, if the females don’t accept the gift, that single decision can end with the female killing the poor guy. However, Dicerapanorpa  scorpionfly males are able to clamp back on to the female and keep her from moving to escape or harm the male with his anal horns as well as another clamp-like appendage, the notal organ. This allows the male to prolong the mating process even after the female has finished eating and is ready to hit the road. Talk about having a high-maintenance girlfriend.

Have you ever seen other insects mating? What did it look like they were doing to you?





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