by Jason P. Burnham
Author’s note: After repeated attempts at various peer-reviewed publications, including rejections for ‘violating scientific integrity’, I have made the decision to post this paper to the bioRxiv as I do not believe it will ever be accepted at a peer-reviewed journal. Nobody believes the events documented herein to be real. Despite repeated requests, no other parties involved in the research at the University of Knoxville Anthropology Research Facility (aka the “Body Farm”) were willing to attach their names to this manuscript.
Since 1972, the University of Knoxville has studied the decomposition of human remains at the Anthropological Research Facility (ARF). The campus includes over 10,000 m2 of wooded plot where bodies are placed to understand human decomposition in a variety of conditions, including studying the life cycle of various insects. This is useful not only for the pure discovery aspect, but also in forensics—determinations of how long persons have been deceased based on what insects are growing from the cadaver have been used in murder cases. Herein, I will describe the condition and progress of one of these cadavers at the ARF.
On the 17th day of April of the year 2025, a cadaver was taken from the cadaver lab to the wooded area of the ARF. Although we are not allowed to look into the details of individual donors, as far as I know, this was an ordinary corpse, dedicated to the University of Knoxville by normal legal processes.
This donor was placed fresh (i.e. unfrozen) in a heavily wooded thicket in between two hills. The body was placed unclothed and supine within the thicket, at which time the leaves of the surrounding trees were green. A moderate amount of sunshine reached the body through the trees. This was the first time a body had been placed in this specific location.
As is standard practice, the body was photographed and catalogued every day, and the data were entered into my field journal and an electronic field journal, which operated via cell phone hotspot wireless. Other data points included scavenging activity at the site as determined by trail camera recordings. The first larval colonization event was documented with photographs of visible eggs on the donor.
All insects were categorized per standardized protocol, as described previously. Briefly, larvae of each phenotype were collected from prominent larval aggregations, par-boiled, preserved in 70% ethanol, characterized, and any atypical larvae allowed to develop in the laboratory setting for genetic confirmation.
The Owings-Steadman method was used to calculate the expected time to larvae deposition and emergence based on local conditions and previous experiments at the ARF. Based on this methodology, the time to blow fly larvae development for this body should have been 7 days.
Blow fly larvae developed one day later than predicted by the Owings-Steadman method (i.e. day 8). On day 10, all visible blow fly larvae had disappeared in the absence of adult emergence. This was documented with photographs. As documented by the trail camera, the donor did not experience any vertebrate scavenging, which is atypical. In fact, no vertebrates were noted in the thicket throughout the duration of the donor’s decomposition.
On day 14, four new prominent larval aggregations developed on the head and neck of the donor. The aggregations were atypical in appearance for blow fly larvae, with a shimmering blue-black iridescence. Despite multiple attempts to photograph the larvae, however, I was unable to capture a photograph, each image showing something approximating the gray, black, and white static of an old television set to an empty channel. The larvae from these aggregations were taken to the lab after standard processing. No genetic material could be identified, despite repeated samplings. The par-boiled, ethanol-preserved larvae decayed in their containers, leaving only a blue-black liquid. One technician in the laboratory observed this liquid to eat through its container and five millimeters of lab bench before it evaporated. I disposed of the remaining larvae in biohazard so as to prevent further laboratory destruction.
On day 17, the donor’s larval aggregations continued to grow, each now measuring approximately one centimeter, with the total mass of the aggregations beginning to obliterate the donor’s head and neck anatomy.
On day 18, the inferior-most portion of the head and neck was coated in icicle-like blue-black accretions which hung toward the ground. No adult insects had yet been isolated from the aggregations. Up until this point, I had considered I might be observing a heretofore undescribed insect, which was quite exciting. However, upon witnessing the accretions, I brought two colleagues with extensive donor body experience to the site to confirm the oddity of my findings. Upon their viewing of the body and its accretions, they were both stunned into a catatonic-like state. I had to cease all data collection and drag them to the ARF. My colleagues’ bodies walked when continuously propelled by my guiding hand, but neither spoke, nor seemed to be mentally present in any way after having seen the body. I took photographs of my colleagues to document the rigid, statue-like postures of their catatonia, but these photographs also did not develop properly.
My colleagues were taken by ambulance to McConnell State Psychiatric Facility, where they remain at the time of this writing. I have been denied visitation or updates as to their current status, but as it is a voluntary facility, it is my assumption that if they had recovered, they would have been released some time in the last six months. I read extensively in medical journals about similar conditions and as best I can tell, my colleagues seem to have developed a rapid onset, extreme form of Parkinsonism. Pathophysiologically speaking it is impossible to develop this instantaneously, but it is the closest diagnosis that matches their symptoms, even if it is merely giving a name to a constellation of findings without an explanation: idiopathic immediate-onset extreme Parkinsonism.
On day 21, the blue-black accretions had grown into the ground, or perhaps the roots of the thicket had grown up to meet them, as the two had fused together. It was on this day that I made note of a decrease in sunlight into the thicket as a result of increased branch density.
On day 22, despite my reservations about continuing to return to the site, I visited the body again, somewhat out of morbid curiosity, and somewhat in service to my catatonic colleagues, as I felt extremely guilty at their state of mind after seeing something I had called them to.
On day 22, sunlight no longer reached the body through the ever-increasing density of the thicket’s branches. The larvae had all but disappeared, replaced by the blue-black accretions.
On day 23, the accretions had thickened to roughly two centimeters each and had had the effect of lifting the head of the donor off the ground with a clearance of three centimeters at the most cranial aspect, which gave the donor the appearance of having lifted their head ever so slightly off the ground to look at me. Needless to say, I had my reservations about returning on day 24, but nevertheless, I did.
On day 24, I discovered the un-typeable insectoid species alluded to in the title of this manuscript. The head of the donor had ceased to be, completely replaced by the accretions, which looked something like blue-black basalt columns of varying heights. The remainder of the body was in an appropriate state of decay for a day 24 body according to the Owings-Steadman method. In the center of these pillars sat a hexagonal accretion, upon which rested the un-typeable insectoid, a description of which follows.
The blue-black creature lay motionless atop the accretion. It appeared to possess a head, thorax, and abdomen, hence my use of the term insectoid. The whole carapace shimmered, even in the dark of the thicket with my flashlight extinguished. It measured 12 cm from head to posterior abdomen. It made no attempt to flee, and in fact, made no movement except one during my time examining it. From both the thorax and abdomen extended two paired sets of hinged legs, for a total of eight, each of which ended in a sticky red residue, which I probed with a sterile-tipped applicator. The applicator began to decay before my eyes upon probing the residue, and I dropped it immediately.
From the head extended six clawed appendages, and a seventh in the center which had a more fluid appearance. Probing this appendage resulted in the creature’s only movement during my examination. The probe was taken by the appendage, which moved somewhat similarly to an octopus tentacle, grabbing it and bringing it in toward its carapace. This probe decayed into a sticky red substance similar in appearance to that at the end of the creature’s legs.
At this point in the examination, thinking I was in a bit over my head, I contained the creature in a biohazard specimen glass case and placed it in a steel kit.
I returned this kit and specimen to the ARF lab to attempt to process the specimen by par-boiling and ethanol preservation. However, by the time I arrived at the lab, the glass case had eroded within the steel kit. Upon discovery of this, I decontaminated the kit in the biohazard room, including an incineration protocol. During the incineration, I had hallucinations of my own death, including my body erupting into creatures like the one found in the thicket donor’s former skull. The incinerator, despite being sealed off from me, produce a noxious blue-black gas that induced a thirty second coughing paroxysm that nearly caused me to black out.
On day 25, I elected not to return to the thicket to directly observe the donor. Instead, I utilized the game cameras trained on the thicket. Visibility was poor, owing to the increased thicket density and the lack of sunlight, but some visibility remained on night vision settings.
The donor’s body remained in its headless position from day 24. The blue-black basalt-like columns appeared nearly unchanged. An identical creature to the one that I had collected the day before had appeared on a second hexagonal column-root-accretion. I observed the camera footage until it stopped. At the time of the last frame, the un-typeable insectoid remained in place on the column.
Upon attempted direct visualization of the donor on day 26, I was unable to locate the body. The thicket had expanded and there was no opening between the trees by which I could enter. The blue-black iridescent quality of the larval aggregations had spread to the branches of the thicket. At the time of the writing of this bioRxiv manuscript, the thicket has expanded to a total diameter of 200 meters and has a hexagonal shape. The ARF has designated this area a biohazard and no personnel are permitted to come within 1,000 meters. Bodies within this containment zone (i.e. those outside the 200-meter thicket but within the 1,000-meter biohazard area) are continuously observed on trail cameras, and those still visible have not changed outside the expected parameters of Owings-Steadman predictions. On the other hand, bodies subsumed within the expanding the thicket have not been able to be monitored and their conditions are unknown.
Herein, I report the discovery of an un-typeable insectoid species growing from a donor’s body at the ARF at the University of Knoxville. Despite repeated attempts to photograph the donor, no images were able to be captured. That is to say, you must take my word for its appearance. Recordings from trail cameras are informative at first, but after a viewing, the quality degrades and the footage cannot be duplicated. No further samples from the donor’s body exist in the lab. I have been let go from the University of Knoxville and have been sent multiple NDAs, of which I have signed none. I have completed this manuscript from an undisclosed location, though I suspect I still may be found. I felt that I must publish it in order to warn the world of what is coming.
As to the nature of my discovery, I cannot be certain. There was no identifiable DNA within the sample, no nucleic acids or proteins of any sort, despite its relatively adequate mimesis of an insect’s form. This is the first discovery of its kind to my knowledge, though if my experience is any indication, if others have made similar discoveries in the past, they have likely been silenced.
As to the long-term effects of exposure to the creature, I cannot be certain. As stated above, the two colleagues with whom I worked that viewed the donor’s body have gone into a catatonic state of indeterminate duration. I cannot be certain why I did not enter such a state. Whether that makes me lucky or cursed, I can only speculate.
As to the physiologic effects, since incinerating the un-typeable insectoid, I have had a lingering cough, which is more prominent when I am outdoors and the intensity of which seems to have a direct relationship with my proximity to trees. As such, I have been avoiding trees at all costs.
I sincerely hope this warning is not too late. Please, whatever you do, avoid Knoxville, Tennessee until this thing is under control. Alternatively, if you have the means, please consider equipping yourself with a well-fitting gas mask and burning the blue-black thicket at the ARF to the ground. Or, alternatively, as a very wise movie protagonist once recommended (and was ignored), perhaps we should just nuke it from orbit.