Weird Desert Scale-insects/Parasites(?) Mating!

Dear All – Many greetings from Northern Kenya. Sharing some photos here from an encounter yesterday that make it worth being an entomologist.

We have had some incredible rains up here in Turkana in northern Kenya. These have produced an outburst of life with lots of dormant insects waking up and furiously getting to work as they take advantage of the favourable conditions.

Yesterday I was photographing some of the first bees to emerge after the dry spell, including the delightful Amegilla bees, who were busy visiting whatever flowers they could find.

Amegilla bee approaches and Indigofera flower

As I was watching the bees, I noticed a tiny, strange reddish speck of a creature flying over the sand at my feet. It had a long white streaming ‘tail’ and was weaving back and forth frantically. Being a good entomologist, I sat down in the hot sand and took a closer look. The red-and-white specks were massing around a tiny orange lump in the sand.

What on earth is going on here!?
What on earth is going on here!?

My heart skipped a beat as I realised that this was the rarely-witnessed mating behaviour of some bizarre scale insects (or possibly Twisted-Wing Parasites – the jury still out on ID)! In both cases these insects show extreme sexual dimorphism with winged males and lump-like females.

If these are scale insects: these fascinating insects are intriguing creatures with females that live as ‘lumps’ on plants and males that fly around and are only briefly seen. After the rains they emerge and males go on to become tiny flying insects who in their short airborne stage of life (just a few hours at most), disperse and search for the females who remain ‘larval’ lump-like forms emitting large doses of pheromones in order to attract the males.

Male grapples with the female Strepsiptera
Male grapples with the female


With such a bizarre and ‘beating the odds’ mating strategy, there is little time for formalities and males pounce on the female and mate with her as soon as they locate her. The female I watched mated with no less than 4 different males in the space of a few minutes! The mating itself appears to be rather traumatic and involves the males grappling and pushing each other about.



The function of the long-white 'streamers' borne by the males remains a mystery...
The function of the long-white ‘streamers’ borne by the males remains a mystery…

After a few minutes of passion, the males departed and the exhausted female lay on the sand before burrowing underground to locate a suitable place to lay her eggs and feed!

The wonderfully strange female Strepsiptera!
The wonderfully strange female resting after mating

More from the wonderful and bizarre world of bugs soon!


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