Tuesday, November 29, 2016

10 Gruesome Short Stories About Body Parts

Copyright 2016 by Gary L. Pullman

For the most part, we take our bodies for granted. Unless there's a pain or some other indication that there's a problem, we are usually pretty much unaware of our flesh and blood and bone. However, in short stories written by the likes of H. P. Lovecraft, H. G. Wells, Edgar Allan Poe, Ray Bradbury, Stephen King, and other masters of horror and fantasy, characters not only pay attention to, but often become obsessed with, the body—or, more specifically, with parts of the body.

In such stories, body parts often have lives of their own. They inspire evil deeds. They suggest madness, guilt, or hubris. They involve characters—and readers—in a spiritual realm beyond the material universe we often, perhaps mistakenly, regard as the only real world.

These stories about body parts may make us think differently the next time we look at ourselves in the mirror.

(Caution: Spoilers ahead.)

10 Edgar Allan Poe's “The Tell-Tale Heart”: A Story About a Human Eye

Edgar Allan Poe's short story “The Tell-Tale Heart” was published in the January 1843 issue of James Russell Lowell's The Pioneer.

In the story, the first-person narrator recounts the motive for the crime he committed, his commission of the crime itself, and his confession of the crime to the police. (LINK 1)

Although the narrator insists he is not mad, his own account of his crime suggests otherwise. He kills his victim because he saw the old man's eye as a hideous, filmed-over, “vulture-like” orb. However, he says he loved the old man himself. Except for his horror at the sight of the old man's eye, there's no explanation for the murder he commits. His motive is emotional, not rational. Because his victim's eye appalls him, the narrator decides to kill him. (LINK 2)

Obsessed with disposing of the eye, the narrator spends a week rehearsing the murder. Each night his will falters, but his determination is revived again by the sight of the old man's eye, even when it is closed in sleep. However, with the eye closed, the narrator is unable to commit the deed. “I found the eye always closed; and so it was impossible to do the work; for it was not the old man who vexed me, but his Evil Eye.” (LINK 3)

On the eighth night, the narrator finds his victim's eye open and is outraged, terrified, and obsessed at the offending orb. (LINK 4)

In “The Tell-Tale Heart,” an innocent victim's eye prompts a madman to murder him.

9 Edgar Allan Poe's “The Tell-Tale Heart”: A Story About a Human Heart

“The Tell-Tale Heart” is also a story about a human heart. Even before the mad narrator kills his innocent victim, he begins to hear—or fancies he hears—the old man's heart beating wildly with terror. Having heard the narrator's thumb slip upon the lantern's “tin fastening,” the old man suspects someone is lying in wait to do him harm. The sadistic narrator waits, allowing his victim's terror to mount. His heartbeat accelerates even more, until it sounds as though his “heart must burst.” Concerned a neighbor might also hear the old man's heart, the narrator acts. Overturning his bed upon his victim, the narrator either crushes or smothers him. (LINK 5)

Although he places his hand on the old man's heart to ensure he is dead and feels “no pulsation,” the heart again beats wildly after the narrator disposes of it. Dismembering the body, he conceals its pieces beneath the floorboards of the old man's bedroom. Now, he becomes as obsessed with the sound of the wildly beating heart as he had been, before the murder, with the old man's “vulture” eye. When he can bear to hear it no longer, he confesses to the police who, tipped off about a scream in the night, come to investigate the incident. (LINK 6)

8 H. G. Wells' “Pollock and the Porroh Man”: A Story About a Human Head

Herbert George (H. G.) Wells' short story “Pollock and the Porroh Man” was published in the anthology The Plattner Story and Others in 1897.

After the protagonist of the story kills the Porroh man's woman, the Porroh man (a fakir, or “witch-doctor”) seeks revenge. He attempts to kill Pollock, by gunfire and by dispatching snakes. To protect himself, Pollock hires a man to kill his adversary. Soon after, the assassin brings him the Porroh man's decapitated head. Perera, a trader with whom Pollock temporarily stays while in Sulyma, suggests the Porroh man may have put a spell on Pollock before he was killed. Pollock buries the Porroh man's head, but a dog digs it up and leaves it in Pollock's hammock, where he is shocked to see it the next morning. (LINK 7)

Next, Pollock casts the head into the river, but it washes ashore. Its finder, who tries to sell it to Pollock, leaves it behind, in Pollock's shed, frightened by Pollock's obvious fear of it. Finding the head, Pollock attempts to burn it on a bonfire. The captain of the steamer taking him to Bathurst finds it “smoked” on the beach. He takes it aboard his ship, telling Pollock about his discovery. Pollock continues to have nightmares about the head, which somehow manages to follow him wherever he travels. LINK 8)

A physician recommends Pollock try a “miracle cure.” When Pollock, who is not religious, declines, the doctor suggests he “go in search of stimulating air,” to “Scotland, Norway, [or] the Alps.” Pollock takes the doctor's advice, but, wherever he goes and whatever he does, he continues to see the Porroh man's head and to have nightmares about it. Finally, on Christmas morning, recalling his “vicious,” selfish life and the grotesque, gruesome head that haunts him, Pollock takes his own life. (LINK 9)

7 H. P. Lovecraft's “Herbert West—Reanimator”: A Story About a Human Head

Howard Phillips (H. P.) Lovecraft's short story “Herbert West—Reanimator” was published, in six installments, in the February through July, 1922, issues of George Julian Houtain's magazine Home Brew. (LINK 10)

West, believes the human body is a machine that can be restarted, should it expire. He has developed a reagent he believes will reanimate it. To prove his hypothesis, West needs corpses. He obtains them in various ways. He pays men to rob graves. He steals the corpse of a recently deceased accident victim. He helps himself to the bodies of typhoid victims. He steals a boxer's cadaver. He acquires the body of a salesman who died from a heart attack. He claims the corpses of dead World War I soldiers while serving as a medic. (LINK 11)

Several years later, West concentrates on reanimating body parts, rather than entire bodies. When his commanding officer, a fellow medic, Major Sir Eric Moreland Clapham-Lee, dies, West has the chance to try another experiment. He discards the major's body. It is unusable, because of injuries from the airplane crash in which Clapman-Lee died. Keeping only the dead man's head, he puts it in a vat and injects it with his experimental serum. The reanimated head shouts at the body to “jump.” West's lab is destroyed in a bomb attack, and he assumes the headless body and the severed head were lost in the blast. (LINK 12)

After the war ends, West rents a house joined to catacombs. He reads a newspaper account of a band of strange-looking men led by a man with a wax head. As he reads, he is confronted by the same men. They are an army of zombies, led by Clapman-Lee's body, which is fitted with a wax head. (Clapman-Lee's actual head, it is implied, is in the box one of the zombies carries and speaks for its body, in the manner of a ventriloquist.) West orders the box burned. As it does, the zombies enter his home, through the catacombs, and disembowel Wells. Clapman-Lee's corpse then decapitates the reanimator, before retreating with his army. (LINK 13)

6 Edgar Allan Poe's “Berenice”: A Story About Human Teeth

Poe's short story “Berenice” was published in the March 1835 issue of The Southern Literary Messenger, a magazine edited by Poe himself.

In the story, the narrator, a young man named Egaeus, plans to marry his cousin Berenice, with whom he has grown up in his father's mansion. Both characters suffer from an illness, one mental, the other physical. He describes his own condition as one in which he may “muse for long unwearied hours,” until he loses “all sense of motion or physical existence.” He describes Berenice's affliction as “a species of epilepsy not unfrequently terminating in trance itself—trance very nearly resembling positive dissolution.” From this “trance,” her recovery, Egaeus adds, “was, in most instances, startlingly abrupt.” (LINK 14) In contemporary psychological terms, Egaeus has monomania, fixating on objects, while Berenice suffers from a mysterious disease, a symptom of which is catalepsy.

As the date of their marriage approaches and Egaeus is in the library, Berenice, in one of her “trances,” appears before Egaeus. She displays all the appearances of death. Due to his monomania, he becomes obsessed with her teeth. Egaeus' obsession torments him to the point of madness. He believes that only by possessing her teeth can he restore his reason. (LINK 15)

Some time after Berenice leaves the library, a servant tells Egaeus she has died and must be buried. Later, awakening in a confused state, he finds his clothing bloodstained. During a state of catalepsy, she was mistaken for dead. Egaeus has opened Berenice's grave and extracted his beloved's teeth—while she was yet alive. (LINK 16)

5 Ray Bradbury's “Skeleton”: A Story About a Human Skeleton

Ray Bradbury's short story “Skeleton” was published in the September, 1945, issue of Weird Tales.

The story opens as the protagonist, Mr. Harris, visits his physician, Dr. Burleigh, for the tenth time “this year.” He is concerned about his aching bones. Dissatisfied with his doctor's diagnosis, hypochondria, Mr. Harris next consults M. Munigan, who advertises himself as a “bone specialist,” although he has no medical degree. Receiving no satisfaction from Munigan, Mr. Harris returns home. Still fixated on his skeleton, he examines his bones. Although his wife Clarisse assures him his skeleton is fine, he continues to “brood” over it. Whether at work or at home, he obsesses over the fact there's a skeleton inside him. He even begins to imagine his bones are imprisoning his organs, clamping and “squeezing” his brain and his heart. (LINK 17)

It dawns on Mr. Harris that his skeleton is as much under his control as he is under its. When his bones attack him, causing him to lose weight, he strikes back by denying his skeleton the calcium it needs. However, he fears he may be down to skin and bones in no time. He decides to take a business trip, as Munigan had earlier suggested. However, he runs his car off the road and returns home, “psychologically” prepared, at last, for Munigan's help. Munigan debones him, leaving him a gelatin-like mass of unsupported flesh calling his wife's name. (LINK 18)

4 F. Marion Crawford's “The Screaming Skull”: A Story About a Skull

F. Marion Crawford's short story “The Screaming Skull” was published in the 1911 issue of Wandering Ghosts.

Captain Charles Braddock, the story's protagonist-narrator, inherits property from his cousin Pratt. Pratt's body was found with its throat torn out, lying on a beach next to a box containing a skull. The skull was returned to the house, where both Braddock and his servants often hear it scream. Perhaps the screams have something to do with Pratt's having murdered his wife. He'd spooned molten lead into her ear after Braddock told him how another man had used this means to kill his own spouse. Braddock fears the murdered woman may have avenged herself upon Pratt. He also fears she may intend to kill him because he'd suggested to Pratt the means to kill her. (LINK 19)

Although he tries to rid himself of the skull, it makes its way back to the house. A skeptic, Braddock refuses to believe in the supernatural, even though he suspects the ghost of Pratt's wife may be trying to kill him. He imprisons the skull in its box, seals the lid shut with wax, and stores it inside a locked cupboard in the bedroom Pratt and his wife shared. (LINK 20)

The story ends with a newspaper account of Braddock's “strange death.” He is found with his throat torn out. The teeth marks identify his killer as a human, presumed to be “an escaped maniac.” The killer, the coroner's report adds, is thought, because of the size of the jaws, to be a woman. (LINK 21)

In a note at the end of the story, Crawford informs his readers that his tale is based on “legends about a skull which is still preserved in the farmhouse called Bettiscombe Manor, situated. . . on the Dorsetshire Coast.” (LINK 22)

3 Stephen King's “The Moving Finger”: A Story About a Human Finger

Stephen King's short story “The Moving Finger” was published in the December, 1990, issue of The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction. It was also published in King's 1993 collection of short stories Nightmares & Dreamscapes.

When Howard Mitla is confronted with a mysterious finger poking out of his bathroom drain, he fears the monstrous digit may attack him. Determined to get rid of the intruder, he uses a drain cleaner. When this tactic fails, he tries to chop it off with electric hedge trimmers. (LINK 23)

Although Mitla is finally successful in disposing of the finger, King's story ends with the observation that “there are more fingers than one on a hand.” (LINK 24)

2 Clive Barker's “The Body Politic”: A Story About Human Hands

“The Body Politic” is the first short story in Volume Four of Clive Barker's series of collected tales of horror, The Books of Blood, which were published by Sphere Books in 1984 and 1985.

In this satirical story, human hands are conscious. They resent being controlled by the bodies to which they are attached, as possessions rather than as independent and self-governing beings in their own right. The outraged hands of a factory worker named Charlie start a revolution—after strangling Charlie's wife, Ellen. (LINK 25)

However, Charlie's hands have strong personalities and do not see eye to eye. Left exercises caution. Right, on the other hand, is something of a firebrand. The differences in their personalities leads Right to sever his relations—literally—with Left, and he chops off his unfortunate brother. Left then organizes other hands, and a revolution against the rest of the bodies gets underway. (LINK 26)

1 W. W. Jacobs' “The Monkey's Paw”: A Story About a Monkey's Paw

William Wymark (W. W.) Jacobs' short story “The Monkey's Paw” was published in 1902, in both Harper's Magazine and in a collection of his stories called Our Lady of the Barge.

During a rainstorm, Mr. and Mrs. and their son Herbert are visited by Sergeant-Major Morris. He shows tells them a mummified monkey's paw—a magic charm he obtained from an Indian fakir. To prove people's lives are “ruled” by fate, the fakir “put a spell on” the paw. It allows three wishes to be granted to three of its successive owners. As he considers his own experience with the paw, Morris throws it into the s' fire. “Better let it burn,” he warns his hosts, but Mr. retrieves it from the flames. He uses it to wish for 200 pounds. (LINK 27)

The next day, Herbert is killed in an accident at his factory. His parents are awarded 200 pounds. A week after Herbert's mutilated body is buried, Mrs. remembers the monkey's paw, She has her husband use it to wish their son alive again. Some time later, a knock sounds at their door. Mrs. rushes downstairs to admit their son. However, Mr. , aware that wishes linked to the monkey's paw always seem to go wrong, is horrified at the thought of “the thing” pounding on his door. He scrambles to retrieve the monkey's paw as his wife climbs onto a chair to reach the bolt locking the door. Just as she draws the bolt, he finds the monkey's paw and makes his last wish. No one is at the door. His wife's “wail of disappointment and misery” emboldens Mr. . He runs to the front gate, where he sees “the street light flickering . . . on a quiet and deserted road.” (LINK 28)

LINK 11: https://librivox.org/herbert-west-re-animator-by-h-p-lovecraft

LINK 12: https://librivox.org/herbert-west-re-animator-by-h-p-lovecraft

LINK 13: https://librivox.org/herbert-west-re-animator-by-h-p-lovecraft

LINK 27: http://americanliterature.com/author/w-w-jacobs/short-story/the-monkeys-paw

LINK 28: http://americanliterature.com/author/w-w-jacobs/short-story/the-monkeys-paw

10 Good Samaritans Who Did Not Go Unpunished

Copyright 2016 by Gary L. Pullman

No good deed goes unpunished,” some cynics say, and some evidence supports their point of view. Good Samaritans have suffered losses ranging from employment to life itself. In many cases, their losses affected others as well. Spouses, parents, children, other relatives, and friends often pay a price nearly as great as the heroes' own.

Authorities aren't always sure when ordinary people should intervene in life-threatening situations, and some employers forbid such action on penalty of termination. Nevertheless, some good Samaritans say, despite the losses they've suffered, they'd do the same thing again, if necessary. When emergency situations confront them, they tend to act without a second thought, willing to sacrifice all, simply because, they believe, such action is required.

These men and women certainly did.

10 Kristopher Oswald

After negative publicity for firing a good Samaritan hired to stock shelves at night, a Michigan Wal-Mart store offered to rehire Kristopher Oswald, age 30. (A Wal-Mart spokesperson said the company's policy “requires employees to alert store management and call police instead of intervening in dangerous situations.”) A temporary employee at the time, Oswald intervened when a man attacked a woman in the store's parking lot. While eating a sandwich in his car during a break, Oswald heard the woman scream and saw her attacker “sprawled on the hood” of her car. She tried to “pry him off,” but he attacked her. When Oswald “confronted the man,” the assailant began to pummel him and threatened to kill him. Oswald was able to “subdue” the attacker, but “two other men jumped him form behind.” After police “broke up the fight,” Wal-Mart responded to the hero's actions by terminating his employment, and Oswald refused the store's offer to hire him back. (LINK 1)

9 Willie Parks

In Omaha, Nebraska, Osmar Garcia, age 18, disregarded a stop sign. Hurtling through an intersection, he struck two motorcyclists, Albert Brown and Patricia White. Good Samaritan Willie Parks, age 27, used a car jack to rescue Brown and White, who were trapped under the Buick LeSabre that had struck them. In the process, Parks lost the “tip of his right index finger.” The victims were also injured, suffering broken legs. Garcia, who was uninjured, was cited for driving without a license or a “valid registration.” (LINK 2)

8 Jesse Bautista
On July 18, 2016, in Houston, Texas, Jesse Bautista, age 41, and his cousin Carlos agreed to give the driver of a disabled car a ride to his aunt's house. On the way, the man attempted to carjack their vehicle. The stranger grabbed Bautista, threatening him with a screwdriver. Bautista's cousin, Carlos, scrambled from the car and took the screwdriver away from the man, but not before the assailant had stabbed Bautista with the tool. Caught in his seat belt and unable to escape from the vehicle, Bautista was dragged over “a half mile,” suffering “horrific burns” to “his chest, abdomen and arms.” He also received “spinal injuries and fractures across his body and lost three toes.” Bautista's injuries required hospitalization. It was the carjacker's second attempt that day to steal a car. An hour before, a woman managed to escape. (LINK 3)

7 Angel Soto

Angel Soto

In 2012, near Boynton Beach, Florida, Angel Soto lived up to his name when he assisted a 26-year-old car crash victim, Alexander Proscrurshim. Moments after Soto pulled Proscrurshim from his wrecked truck, Soto was pinned against the vehicle by another car. “The car hit so hard I couldn't feel my legs; the pain was excruciating. I was hopping around and looked down and it was a bloody mess,” Soto declared. The rescued man became the rescuer, as Proscrurshim made a tourniquet of “an old shirt.” Having “lost most of his right leg,” Soto was fitted with a prosthetic replacement. Although Soto's left leg was broken, doctors expect a “full recovery.” Even though he said he's “really happy to be alive” and with his wife and children,” Soto said rescuing a stranger was “worth it” and, “given the chance,” he would “do it again.” (LINK 4)

6 Gabriel Botiller

Gabriel Botiller, age 22, who worked for the Discount Tire chain, stopped to help a stranded off-duty police officer whose car was parked along a “busy expressway” near Mesa, Arizona. As the officer stood nearby, Botiller was changing his tire when a vehicle struck his truck, driving it toward Botiller and the officer, both of whom were severely injured and hospitalized. Botiller “was airlifted to a local trauma center with severe injuries, his chances of survival slim,” having sustained a badly broken right leg, a broken collarbone, and “several lacerations.” He also lost his left leg. Both Botiller and the officer survived, but the driver who struck Botiller's truck did not. (LINK 5)

5 Danny Krum

When he heard a woman was trapped in a car and only one other person was present, Danny Krum rushed to the victim's aid. He'd been cooking but forgot to turn off the stove. “Twenty-five minutes later,” he said, “my house was gone.” After reaching his attic, “the fire spread across the whole house,” Coal Grove Volunteer Fire Captain Jay Sherman said. Not only did Krum and his wife, who'd called him from the Ironton, Ohio, accident scene to notify him of the trapped motorist, lose their home, but one of their dogs perished in the fire as well. The motorist, 38-year-old Toni Christian, crossed four lanes before striking an “embankment” and flipping her car. Although injured in the crash and hospitalized, she was expected to make a complete recovery. The same firefighters who rescued her responded to the fire at the Krums' residence. (LINK 6)

4 Shane Stokowski

Shane Stokowski, left, and Timothy McShane, right

It was obvious that Timothy McShane was in no condition to drive. After leaving a bar in Chicago, Illinois, he “smashed into parked cars” as he attempted to drive home. Fearing McShane might kill someone, 33-year-old Shane Stokowski ran alongside the drunk driver's car, pleading with him not to “do it.” Along the way, Stokowski slipped and fell. It appears McShane ran over his skull, as prosecutors claimed Stokowski sustained “massive head injuries consistent with a tire running over his head” and have charged McShane, “whose license was suspended after a history of drunken-driving arrests,” with “reckless homicide and aggravated DUI.” During McShane's trial, “Dr. James Filkins, then an assistant medical examiner, testified that Stokowski had suffered so many fractures to his skull that he couldn't count them all.” Stokowski's father, Jeff, said, “My son, he tried to do the right thing, and it cost him his life.” At the time of his death, Stokowski was engaged and had expected to be married six months later. (LINK 7)

3 Anthony “T. J.” Antell, Jr.

When he saw the gunman shoot at the woman's feet, Anthony “T. J.” Antell, Jr., age 35, knew it was time to act. Unfortunately, his heroic intervention ended in his own death and the wounding of the assailant's wife, Quinisha Johnson. Outside the Arlington, Texas, Walgreen's drug store at which she's employed, her husband, Ricci Bradden, a 22-year-old Army private, was arguing with her about a selfie she'd posted of her social media site when he slapped her and fired his pistol. Retrieving his own sidearm from his car, Antell confronted Bradden, but the latter swatted Antell's weapon from his hand and then shot him. Bradden's wife was able to escape into the store. Antells' wife witnessed her husband's death. Later, Bradden turned himself in to authorities and is awaiting trial. (LINK 8)

2 Robert Ybarra

Robert Ybarra, age 81, late of Detroit, Michigan, survived combat in Vietnam, only to lose his life as a good Samaritan helping a man he thought was in trouble. Returning home from a coffee run, Ybarra saw a car parked alongside the road. The man inside wasn't in distress, though; he was drunk. After fighting with Ybarra, the intoxicated man ran over him with his car. Ybarra was tough. The burns to his body and his glass eye, both consequences of his combat duty, showed that. Unfortunately, after a day-long struggle, the old soldier succumbed to the injuries he received while trying to assist the man he thought was a stranded motorist in need of help. (LINK 9)

1 Kristi Clark and son Carter

Kristi Clark

Near Franklin, Tennessee, at approximately 9:00 p. m., a black sport-utility vehicle overturned in a storm after sliding on black ice (a transparent coat of ice on a paved surface). Kristi Clark, age 34, who's known for her good deeds, took her 10-year-old son Carter with her to assist the motorist. As they drew near the SUV, they were struck by a tractor-trailer. Carter died at the scene. Clark later died at a local medical center. (LINK 10)

Copyright 2016 by Gary L. Pullman

Want to know what prehistoric insects looked like? Think of really huge, scary-looking dragonflies, crane flies, silverfish, and ants.

Insects have been bugging other forms of life as long ago as the Silurian Period (from about 443.7 to 416 million years ago), (LINK 1) when the world's oldest insect first appeared.

Today, we're pestered by insects as small as gnats. Think what a backyard barbecue might have been like, had we humans coexisted with the first insects. Like dinosaurs, most were huge, compared to their modern descendants!

As pesky as prehistoric insects must have been for the animals (and, often, the other bugs) they shared our prehistoric planet with, they're valuable to understanding what the world and life were like back—way back—in the day.

From youngest to oldest, here are the ten earliest prehistoric insects known to science.

10 Afromyrma

The tenth oldest insect debuted during the Cretaceous Period (from about 145.5 to 65.5 million years ago). (LINK 2)

The Arfromyrma genus fossil found at Orapa, Botswana, has been classified as a member of the Myrmicinae subfamily of ants, although the incomplete specimen's poor condition has caused this classification to be challenged. (LINK 3)

Ants of the Myrmicinae subfamily have narrow pestioles (waists) and a rigid prothorax (the segment of the body connecting the head and the abdomen). The hardened lower part of their face, the clypeus, is well-developed, as are the eyes. Myrmicinae ants usually can sting. (LINK 4)

9 Ororaphidia

Four more insect genera, the ninth, eighth, seventh, and sixth oldest, appeared during the Jurassic Period (from about 199.6 to 145.5 million years ago). (LINK 5)

Recovered from Daohugou, Inner Mongolia, China, the Ororaphidia genus fossil is the oldest remains of the snakefly ever found there. (LINK 6


The snakefly still exists. It is easily identified, as it has a “small head and long, slender 'neck,' which is actually the elongated prothorax.” About 3/5 of an inch long, the snakefly has two pairs of “net-veined wings, long antennae, and chewing mouthparts.” The female also has an egg-laying organ, the ovipositor. Snakeflies eat the larvae of other insects and, for this reason, help to control the insect population. (LINK 7)

8 Mongolbittacus

Discovered in Ningcheng, Inner Mongolia, China, the fossilized Mongolbittacus genus insect, is a hangingfly (LINK 8)—a “long-legged scorpionfly of the family Bittacidae, resembling the crane fly but having four wings rather than two and hanging from leaves or twigs by the front or middle legs while using the hind legs to seize prey, mostly small flies.” (LINK 9)

Found in a humid, tropical environment, a male Mongolbittacus specimen measures approximately 17/50 of an inch long with somewhat longer wings, about 11/25 of an inch in length. Its rounded head displays powerful chewing mouthparts; large, oval compound eyes; and fine, threadlike antennae. Its body consists of three segments, and it has long, slender, but bristly, legs equipped with spurs and claws. (LINK 10) Like several other prehistoric insects, the Mongolbittacus was predatory, feeding on other bugs. (LINK 11)

7 Jurahylobittacus


The Jurahylobittacus is the second of the two new genera of hangingflies. Its fossil was found in northeast China. Resembling the Formosibittacus insect, it is distinguished from other genera by its characteristic cross veins. (LINK 12)

6 Formosibittacus

Collected in Daohugou, Inner Mongolia, China, a well-preserved fossil of the Formosibittacus genus insect reveals it to be a hangingfly. It is differentiated from other genera by its series of cross veins. (LINK 13)

The only fossil is complete, except for a missing hind wing. The other wings exhibit a “mottled color patterning,” and the forewings are approximately 3/50 of an inch long, the hind wings 9/10 of an inch in length. The narrow wing base broadens to 1/5 of an inch along its length. (LINK 14)

5 Palaeodictyopteroidea

The Permian Period (from about 299 to 252 million years ago) produced the fifth oldest insect. (LINK 15)

The Palaeodictyopteroidea genus insect also closely resembles the modern dragonfly. Its wingspan ranges from 7 and 87/100 inches to almost 20 inches. Its body consists of ten segments. The rounded head is relatively large, with strong jaws. Its mouthparts, adapted from “feeding on spores, pollen, and fruit,” enable it to both pierce and suck “plant sap,” making it the world's first significant “herbivorous insect.” (LINK 16) (With an insect like this one flying around, even dinosaurs were lucky this bad boy wasn't a carnivore!)

It is also equipped with simple, similar fore and hind wings of an occasionally triangular shape. The larger forewings exhibit the beginnings of an arranged network of veins. It also has bristly antennae, slender legs, a segmented abdomen with pronounced “lateral lobes,” and two short tails. (LINK 17)

4 Sinomeganeura

The next three oldest insects started life during the Carboniferous Period (from about 359.2 to 299 million years ago). (LINK 18)

In a world of large, even gigantic, insects, the one and one-fourth-inch-long Sinomeganeura genus specimen, with a wingspan of 2 and 4/25 inches, is the smallest of all. More slender than its wings, it isn't much longer, either. Unfortunately, the fossilized specimen is both incomplete and somewhat damaged, so it's difficult to discern much else from the remains. (LINK 19) However, members of the Sinomeganeura genus may be the primary, if not the only, predatory insects of the late Paleozoic Era. (LINK 20)

3 Bohemiatupus

Like other members of the Odonata group, members of the Bohemiatupus genus have the greatest wingspan (28 inches) of all insects, present and prehistoric alike. The Bohemiatupus genus fossil was found in Bohemia. Resmbling modern dragonflies, the group is defined by the arrangement of the veins in its fore and hind wings and represents the first giant griffinfly found on the European contient. (LINK 21)

Sexually, the Bohemiatupus genus is unusual. Males lack accessory genitalia, (LINK 22) the glands that produce seminal fluid and spermatophores. (LINK 23) Undeveloped females are even more extraordinary. They have an organ, the mask, developed from the labia, used to seize and hold prey. (LINK 24)

2 Archaeognatha (or Meganeura)

Although some consider an Archaeognatha order specimen to be the second-oldest insect, (LINK 25) others believe that the Meganeura genus holds this title. The former appeared about 304 million years ago (LINK 26) (some say 390 to 392 million years ago), (LINK 27) during the Carboniferous Period. The latter debuted almost 304 million years ago. (LINK 28) (When millions of years are involved, it's difficult to pinpoint, with precision, when an insect made its first appearance.)


The Archaeognatha order fossil was found on the north shore of Canada's Gaspe Bay. Archaeognatha insects are the ancestors of the modern silverfish. (LINK 29) Their descendants are little changed from their prehistoric forbears (LINK 30) and closely resemble their present-day progeny. (LINK 31)

Wingless, these insects are small, with long, arched bodies covered in scales. They have long antennae; compound eyes that join near the top of the head; “partially retractable” mouthparts with mandibles evolved for chewing; and long mouth appendages. (LINK 32)

Along their legs and sternums, small jointed “styli,” considered to be “rundimentary appendages,” further differentiate them from other insects. Their sternums are also equipped with three hardened parts used to attach themselves to surfaces on which they molt, or shed, their skin. (LINK 33)

Using their tails as springs, they can leap to a distance of 12 inches. Although their “thin exoskeleton” may dehydrate, they absorb water through “reversible membranous vesicles.” (LINK 34)

Members of the Archaeognatha order have an usual “courtship.” Males attach spermatophores to a “thread” spun “from their abdomens.” The female deposits these packaged spermatozoa in her oviposiror. She then “lays about 30 eggs in a suitable crevice.” The insects “live up to four years,” which is “longer than many larger insects” survive. (LINK 35)

Insects of the Meganeura genus resemble the modern dragonfly. However, due to the oxygen-rich prehistoric environment, they had a wingspan of more than two feet, (LINK 36) as compared to the dragonfly's six-inch wingspread. (LINK 37) Both the prehistoric ancestor and its modern descendant devour other insects. (LINK 38)

1 Rhyniognatha hirsti

The oldest known insect, Rhyniognatha hirsti, may or may not have had wings. If so, the wings did not survive with the fossilized specimen. First described in 1926, by entomologist Robin John Tillyard, the fossil indicates a definite insect's jaw. Likely, it fed on sporophyll plants. (LINK 39)

Rhyniognatha hirsti
Found in Scotland's Aberdeenshire Rhynie, the insect was trapped when the water from hot springs' geysers and springs, which contained large amounts of silica, cooled and the silica crystallized. The discovery of the world's oldest insect suggests that insect flight may have originated sooner than thought. (LINK 40) (Not soon enough, though, it appears to have helped the unfortunate Rhyniognatha hirsti avoid its fate.)