Mecoptera Click to enlarge image
Hanging-fly (Order Mecoptera) Image: Andrew Howells
© Australian Museum

Hanging-flies and scorpion-flies belong to the insect Order Mecoptera.

What do hanging-flies and scorpion-flies look like?


  • Wingspan up to 50 mm across.


  • Column-like or widest at wing attachment ('wide shoulders') tapering past this point.
  • Head with a beak-like extension.
  • Appears soft and fragile.


  • Thread-like, with many segments and longer than half their body length.


  • Large, bulging and well separated.


  • For chewing or munching.
  • Located at the tip of beak-like extension of the head.
  • Held downwards at rest.


  • Two pairs if present (though rarely absent).
  • Both pairs are similar in size, membranous, clear, and have numerous cross-veins forming mainly rectangular cells.
  • At rest most hold their wings tent-like above their body though some species overlap them.


  • Six legs, very long and slender.
  • Have large spines at joints.
  • Often have large claws for grabbing onto prey and plants.

Abdomen tip:

  • Cerci (tails) absent.
  • Males have claspers, which are used to hold onto the female during mating.
  • In some groups the abdomen is raised similar to the stinging tail of a scorpion hence the common name scorpion-fly.

Where are hanging-flies and scorpion-flies found?

  • Usually around moist environments or adjacent to open water. Some however are found in drier habitats.
  • On herbs and low shrubs that have many leaves. Occasionally amongst tall grasses or on flower heads.
  • One wingless species can be found on snow (Tasmania only).

What do hanging-flies and scorpion-flies do?

  • They are solitary.
  • When disturbed they fly away, flying only in short bursts.
  • They tend to be weak, slow, flapping fliers.
  • Hanging-flies hang from plants by their forelegs waiting to catch prey with their hind legs.
  • Both hanging-flies and scorpion-flies tend to be predators preying on flies, moths, bees, spiders and various larvae. Some are also scavengers taking nectar as they hunt.
  • They are active during the day.

What looks similar?

  • Lacewings can have a beak-like extension of the head but it is never as long as you would see in a hanging-fly or a scorpion-fly. Lacewings are distinguished by the forked veins along the margins of their wings.
  • Alderflies/dobsonflies are easily distinguished as they lack a beak-like extension of head.
  • Crane flies (order Diptera, family Tipulidae) are often confused with hanging-flies as they have long legs and have a habit of hanging on plants. Craneflies can be distinguished by only having one pair of fully functional wings.