Newly discovered scorpion fly species with bizarre appearance

A newly discovered species of large scorpion fly from Nepal called Lulilan obscurus. In addition to the long head, characteristic of all scorpion flies, the very elongated abdomen is striking. It is described by Emeritus Professor Rainer Willmann, University of Göttingen, along with other species that are part of a new genus of scorpionfly called Lulilan. Credit: University of Göttingen/R Willmann

Zoologist Professor Rainer Willmann, former director of the Zoological Museum at the University of Göttingen, has described and classified previously unknown species of scorpion flies from Nepal. These species belong to an entirely new genus, for which Willmann has introduced the name “Lulilan”. His paper was published in the journal Contributions to entomology.

“The appearance of the newly discovered scorpionflies could hardly be more bizarre,” says Willmann.

The males have a spindly, extremely elongated abdomen, with a large organ at the end – with long, grasping pincers – for mating.

The insects have a body length of more than three centimeters and are therefore particularly large. The insects were caught by zoologist Professor Jochen Martens from Mainz and his colleague from Stuttgart Dr. Wolfgang Schawaller. Until now, only one such species was known and it was discovered exactly 200 years ago.

“Despite their dangerous-sounding name, scorpion flies are completely harmless to humans,” says Willmann. Their name comes from their bulbous genital segment, which resembles a scorpion’s stinger. They also have a distinctive, elongated head.

In Europe, there are only a few species of scorpion flies. “More species of Lulilan probably exist in Nepal and surrounding regions,” says Willmann. So far, only the females of some species are known. However, unlike the males, the females do not have any of these characteristic features, meaning classification is more difficult.

Newly discovered scorpion fly species with bizarre appearance

Credit: University of Göttingen/R Willmann

Of the scorpionflies already described, only the genus Leptopanorpa, which is native to Sumatra, Java and Bali, has developed such a distinctive abdomen. However, it is not closely related to Lulilan.

“This is an amazing example where similar traits emerge independently, perhaps in response to similar evolutionary pressures,” says Willmann.

More information:
Rainer Willmann, Neue Skorpionsfliegen (Mecoptera, Panorpidae) from Nepal, Contributions to entomology (2022). DOI: 10.3897/contrib.entomol.72.e97277

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