Image: Judy Gallagher via Wikimedia Commons

Meet the scorpionfly: an insect that is terrifying in appearance and known to prey vehemently on dead organisms, or cadavers. 

Despite the name, these insects aren’t technically scorpions or flies — they are most closely related to the fleas and true flies. The ones from the largest family, Panorpidae, are medium-sized and appear fly-like throughout their abdomen, but boast long, beak-like rostra and oversized male genitalia that look a lot like stingers.

Image: Richard Bartz via Wikimedia Commons

Yep, that’s right. That’s a penis, not a stinger.

A prominent family belonging to the species known as the Bittacidae are also known for their unusual mating rituals, which involve females selecting their male companions based on the quality of prey gifts received.

Scorpionflies breed predominantly in moist environments such as leaf litter or patches of moss. They can vary in length from 0.1 inches to the longest extending nearly 1.5 inches — large enough to make for an impressive visual specimen. 

Image: Richard Bartz via Wikimedia Commons

Metocoptera date back to the Upper Permian age, with plentiful fossils found during the Cretaceous period especially in China, including the impressive Jurassipanorpa. Before they became predominant feeders on dead organisms, they played a similar role to bees. Metocoptera used to pollinate extinct species of gymnosperm during the late Middle Jurassic to the mid-Early Cretaceous periods. This mainly included wind pollination.

Scorpionflies primarily inhabit moist environments, with few species found in semi-desert habitats. Their taste for dead organisms is highlighted by the soft bodies of invertebrates and decaying vegetative matter. One family of the species known as Panorpa invade spider webs and feed on the captured insects or the reigning spiders themselves.

But the scorpionfly’s most disturbing characteristic is its taste for human flesh, as it often the first insect to arrive on the scene of a rotting human corpse.