Grampus and go-devil

Corydalus cornutus | Wayne Co. Missouri

Ever taken a close look at a female dobsonfly’s head? Female dobsonflys don’t get nearly as much attention as the males due to the latter’s ridiculously elongated mandibles. While female mandibles are more modestly proportioned, don’t think they’re ineffectual—females are quite capable of inflicting a blood-letting nip if one is not careful. Certainly the female head is no less dinosaurian in appearance than the male’s, and while I know that Corydalus cornutus is the product of the same amount of evolutionary time as any other species on earth today, I can’t help but think they look so “primitive.”

While dobsonfly is the commonest name applied to these insects, I much prefer “go-devil” (not sure of the origin) and “grampus” (from “Krampus”—a mythical horned, creature in Alpine countries). The latter name in particular pays more appropriate homage to the monstrous appearance of these insects.

Photographed July 2011 at a blacklight sheet in Sam A. Baker State Park, Wayne Co., Missouri.

Copyright © Ted C. MacRae 2012

19 thoughts on “Grampus and go-devil

  1. Any idea of the origin of the names “Dobsonfly” (adult) and hellgramite (larva) for these things? I have done some searching and found nothing, other than that both names go back a while. I would speculate that “dobson” might be a Native American name (transcribed to English), but that is just because it does not appear related to any English meaning, or anyone named Dobson.

    • Your thoughts at BugGuide on the origin of these names are the most thorough that I’ve seen. Most other sources say “Etymology obscure” (if they say anything at all). Too bad we don’t know for sure, because they are interesting names.

      • Thanks, Ted. It really is an interesting puzzle, especially in that the same insect has two distinctive names of obscure origin. My speculation on BugGuide is exactly that, based on my very amateur knowledge of such things. (However I think it’s a pretty safe bet that “Dobson” is a folk etymology version of something else.)
        There is primary literature on folk names for critters in North America–a search through some relevant sources might turn up something, but would take some time.

    • Hi Martha – my reaction after seeing the photo on the computer screen was the same. I had no idea the sculpturing was as complex as can be seen in the photo.

      Patrick (previous comment) is the author of the BugGuide page. A more thorough etymological discussion of the names does not exist to my knowledge.

  2. I love the detail markings on the head nearest the thorax. I would have not guessed this photo was taken at night……sweeeeett!!

    • Hi Roxane. Hope things are going well down in Cape. I’ve seen dozens of dobsonflies over the years and never suspected they had such interesting sculpturing of the head. I was really just messing around taking close up photos of different insects that came to the sheet – this one really surprised me when I saw it up close.

        • That’s a good question. Besides recognition, other possible functions might include diffusion of light to aid in crypsis or enhance mimicry, structural support for underlying muscles, and distribution of sensory structures—perhaps even a combination of multiple functions. Regardless, I find the patterns and variety endlessly fascinating.

  3. Found a Helgramite in my bedroom in GA last night. Very Scary looking thing flying across the room. How in the world did it get to house in the woods in GA and into my bedroom? Is it poisonus or what. Can’t seem to find more info on this thing. Juanita

    • I have a bug in my bedroom and it comes out at night and flies into my small fan and plays(?) in the running fan. Disappears very quickly and therefore can never catch it. It was on my bed (with me in it) last early morning, not too much light! How do I get rid of it? Hate to kill it but I am thinking of fogging that room. Please help if you know of anything else I can do. Thank you!


Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s