The Characteristics of the Insect Order Mecoptera

The insect order Mecoptera is comprised of over 550 species including the scorpion flies, hanging flies, and earwigflies. They are small to medium sized, thin insects with long slender antennae. Their heads extend into a long beak with biting mouthparts creating an appearance similar to the mosquito.  The most striking physical characteristic is the male genitallia which extends upward and resembles the tail of a scorpion.  They are not true flies, as true flies (Diptera) have two wings. The Mecoptera have four. Research suggests that the flea may be more aptly included in this order of insect than their traditional order, Siphonaptera.

The Mecoptera are primarily predatory, feeding on smaller insects. The adults will also consume nectar, fruit, pollen, petals, and leaves. The larvae will often feed on dead organisms found in spider webs and even on decaying animal matter. They are called hanging flies because some species hang from leaves, catching their prey with their hind legs.

The Mecoptera are an old order of insect and possibly the first whose lifecycle demonstrates complete metamorphosis (egg, larva, pupa, and adult). This lifecycle is shared with butterflies, true flies, moths, caddis flies, and fleas. The order consists of nine families, some currently extinct, and is thought to have been pivotal in the pollination of prehistoric vegetation.

The Mecoptera prefer cool, moist climates and can be found in coastal areas, mountain regions, and dense forests.  Mating occurs when the male attracts the female through the use of secreted pheromones. In many species, the male will offer the female a gift of a small insect. It is thought that the female may need this nourishment to assist with the development of eggs. Aquatic species lay their eggs in water. The terrestrial variety deposits their eggs in moist soil or leaf litter. The larvae hatch and complete three stages of development prior to pupating in holes dug in the soil. They will remain buried for several months, finally hatching into adults with the ability to fly.

While scorpion flies may be mistaken for giant mosquitoes, the insects of the order Mecoptera are not considered pest insects, though the addition of the flea to this order may change that slightly. They are found on every continent except Antarctica with most species found in Southeast Asia and Indonesia.  No species of Mecoptera is currently considered endangered, however, populations in North America, Mexico, and Java are shrinking due to a loss of habitat.