One-Shot Wednesday: Panorpa helena scorpionfly

Panorpa helena, male | Wayne Co., Missouri

Last month I introduced a new meme called One-Shot Wednesday as a fun outlet for those occasional instances where I was able to fire off just one shot of an insect before it took off. At the time I guess I was hoping it was a meme that I wouldn’t need to use frequently, as I really do like to get more than just one shot of the insects that I photograph. Eventually, however, I decided it might actually encourage me to attempt photographs of insects that I wouldn’t normally try to photograph—not because I don’t find them attractive or interesting, but rather the fear of becoming too distracted and missing opportunities for the types of insects that I prefer to photograph. Freeing myself from the “need” to spend inordinate amounts of time with every subject I try to photograph might actually make me more willing to fire off more shots willy-nilly. Most of these shots probably won’t be anything special, but a few should turn out pretty good—and what better way to get more practice and experience?

Today’s feature is my first attempt at something in the order Mecoptera. I am admittedly a novice when it comes to scorpionfly taxonomy, but after perusing The Mecoptera of North America, an excellent website by Norm Penny (Collections Manager at the California Academy of Sciences and specialist in the taxonomy, biology, and biogeography of the Mecoptera and Neuropterida), I’m fairly confident that this male represents the common and widespread species Panorpa helena Byers, 1962. Penny includes Missouri in the distribution of six species of this monogeneric family, but the three complete bands across yellow wings and presence of an anal horn on the sixth abdominal tergum seem to support my identification (although I suppose examination of the male genitalia would be required for conclusive identification).

Frankly I was surprised I even got this shot. I see scorpionflies commonly in dense, moist woods throughout Missouri—this one was seen in wet bottomland forest along Big Creek in Sam A. Baker State Park in the southeastern Ozark Highlands—and have noted their tendency to flit nervously through dense foliage when approached. I already had the camera out and with the proper lens attached, so I thought I’d take a shot—I got this one reasonably well-composed, focused, and exposed shot before it flew deeper into the foliage. That was good enough for me (I had other quarry on my mind…), so I didn’t bother to try to track it. That was on April 23 (my first official day as a ‘senior citizen’—harrumph!), and it’s interesting to note that this is nearly two weeks earlier than the first date of occurrence (May 4) recorded for the species at Penny’s website.

Copyright © Ted C. MacRae 2012

14 thoughts on “One-Shot Wednesday: Panorpa helena scorpionfly

  1. “Nothing special”? Ever notice how many people respond “I’ve never seen one of those before” when you point out a common insect to them?
    And these insects are also special to me because they remind me of a favorite professor, George Byers, a crane fly and Mecoptera specialist, who was Norm Penny’s advisor, and who taught what I thought were the most interesting courses in the entomology curriculum at Kansas U., “way back when”.

    • You’ve got a point. It’s like when I see Cicindela sexguttata time after time and then somebody tells me with such glee that they finally found their first tiger beetle! It’s a matter of perspective.

  2. Hi Ted. I have found these guys to be pretty photogenic and great for presentations since, as James indicates above, people are often times amazed to learn that this is a common and local insect.

  3. Your blog was recommended by another blogger. I’m glad I took a peak. I don’t believe I’ve ever heard of a scorpionfly. I wondered how you got such a great shot of this specimen and then read on to see that you had been set up already. Amazing . . .


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