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

About Ted C. MacRae

Ted C. MacRae is a research entomologist by vocation and beetle taxonomist by avocation. Areas of expertise in the latter include worldwide jewel beetles (Buprestidae) and North American longhorned beetles (Cerambycidae). More recent work has focused on North American tiger beetles (Cicindelidae) and their distribution, ecology, and conservation.
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17 Responses to Grampus and go-devil

  1. rickflick says:

    The floral pattern on the neck remind me of a Tiffany lamp. Lovely shot.

  2. Patrick Coin says:

    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.

      • Patrick Coin says:

        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.

  3. Martha says:

    Your opening question, “Ever taken a close look at a female dobsonfly’s head?” is pretty funny.

    Well, er, um, no not really. But thanks to you, I now know it’s complex and beautiful.

    http://bugguide.net/node/view/4873 says the naming is related to the surname Dobson but they aren’t sure of who that is.

    • 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.

  4. For some reason, I’ve always found insect heads to be interesting, and often entertaining. While I’ve seen far more ant heads than beetle heads, this one is quite nice!

  5. Roxane Magnus says:

    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.

      • I’ve wondered this sort of thing before, but what could be the adaptive benefit of such sculpturing? Recognition? The degree to which sculpturing can vary among congenera of insects is rather interesting.

        • 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.

  6. Man, corydalids are cool! I just love them. Lovely shot Ted!

  7. Anonymous says:

    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

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