Looking more like a monster in a David Cronenberg film than an actual insect, the scorpionfly inspires instant shivers of disgust. These winged monstrosities are the kind of nightmare fuel that will trigger a panic attack in even the bravest entomologists. But while they may look like terrifying omens of death, scorpionflies are actually harmless to humans. Still, it's understandable if your first reaction to stumbling on one in the wild looks more or less like Munch's The Scream.
While scary scorpionflies can be found on most continents around the globe, there is still a lot of research that needs to be done to better understand these frightening insects. The facts about scorpionflies that people do know are as weird and unsettling as their appearance suggests. Here's everything you need to know about the creatures from the order mecoptera, insects that deserve their reputation as some of the creepiest and most bizarre bugs in the in the world.
While these insects may look like flying, stinging death-monsters, they actually don't have very much in common with flies or scorpions. Scorpions are arachnids, not insects, and are more closely related to spiders than true bugs. Scorpionflies belong to a group of insects known as mecoptera, an order that also includes hangingflies.
The one good thing about scorpionflies is that they are completely harmless. Despite their dangerous appearance, the tails of the scorpionfly do not come equipped with any kind of stinger. Instead, the bulbous tip is actually male genitalia. Only male scorpionflies have this appendage; the end is meant to pinch down on the female to hold her in place, making copulation that much easier for the male.
Scorpionflies have one of the most depraved and disgusting sex lives in the animal kingdom, and that's saying something. Males start the process by violently vibrating their wings in excitement and releasing sex pheromones upon the sight of a female. Some species present the females with gifts of dead and decaying insects, which she feeds on during the act of mating. If the male doesn't bring a tasty treat, he will instead produce globs of saliva from his mandibles that the female slurps up in excitement.
Mating can go on for hours, and is most often aggressive and nonconsensual. Females usually try to shake off the males. Scorpionflies have also been observed having vigorous sex on human corpses, stopping mid-session to feast on the rotting flesh.
It's no secret that all sorts of insects are attracted to rotting corpses. Forensics experts have relied on the presence of creepy critters to determine how long a person has been dead. Blowflies were thought to be the first bugs on the scene to start feasting on a cadaver, with some species laying eggs in the bodies just minutes after death.
Further research into the subject has revealed that scorpionflies, not blowflies, are the animals most likely to first start feasting on a fresh corpse. The order in which insects are attracted to bodies is important to investigators, as it helps create a detailed timeline of decomposition. Studying unique insect feeding habits can also help determine which wounds were part of the crime and which were inflicted by scavenging bugs.