Sunday 4 March 2012

What is the Biggest Insect in the World?

You gotta love insects, right? They're all over the place so if you don't want your life to be a solid mass of annoyance and fear you really ought to love 'em.

And of course, the only thing better than an insect is a really big insect. And the only thing better than a really big insect is one so big it can bite a man's arm off and fly away with his car. That's my dream, anyway.

It will, unfortunately, have to remain a dream for now. I'm just gonna have to be satisfied with insects that can't quite remove limbs and don't often appear to want to either. I got scientists working on it, though. You might want to get on my good side while you still have the chance.

But we can't go around using words like "biggest". There are far too many ways of interpreting it. Let's get a little more precise...

The world's longest insect is Chan's Megastick, Phobaeticus chani. A few museums have specimens in their collection and the longest of the lot is at the Natural History Museum, London. Their record breaker has a body length of 35.7 cm (14.1 in). Not bad. Not bad at all. In fact, that's pretty good.

The thing is, stick insects like to go that extra mile/few inches. They tend to stretch out those front legs to get a bit of twigginess in with the stickiness. If you include them, Chan's Megastick is now 56.7 cm (22.3 in) long.

It's named after a guy called Datuk Chan Chew Lun and the fact that it's a really long stick. A "megastick", indeed. A "megastick". "Megastick"? Am I wrong, or is that word utterly ridiculous?

Approximately nothing is known about it. It's thought to live high up in the canopy of rainforests in Borneo, making it even more difficult to find than usual. One of the specimens was carrying eggs and they had little wings on them! It seems that they're flicked away to catch the wind and glide off so the hatchlings can find a new tree to live in.

For my Insect Army, I will create the Zettastick. Stick Insects are herbivores, so I was thinking they'd be engineers creating living bridges for my hordes to cross into enemy and completely innocent territory. These flying eggs coupled with expert camouflage intrigue me, however...

Image: Wikipedia
With width we're talking wings and the White Witch of the west. It's Thysania agrippina, a huge owlet moth from Central and South America. They have the biggest wingspan of any insect, reaching about 30 cm (1 foot). It actually looks a lot like those little white moths you see commonly, it's just that it's HUGE so you really get to appreciate those intricate patterns.

They're bigger than your face, bigger than the container you brought to take them home in and bigger than most other moths. Sometimes they're even significantly bigger than their own picture!

They will look magnificent as they rain death upon my enemies and other people who I have no particular argument with. It shall be glorious.

Image: Macreando via Flickr
Greatest Surface Area
As far as I can tell, the Atlas Moth has the biggest surface area of any insect. It's those gigantic wings again.

Attacus atlas is a large Saturniid moth, significantly larger than some Saturniids, only slightly larger than others. They come from Southeast Asia and are said to have a total wing surface area of more than 400 cm2 (62 sq in). Wow! The wingspan is a "mere" 26 cm (11.4 in) or so, but the more expansive shape gives them the edge over the White Witch.

And of course, they're utterly beautiful. Their size helps us to take in those amazing colours as they bring joy to all. Aside from those uppermost wing-tips, that is. They're supposed to look like snakes. Whether this is because someone said "hey, that looks like a snake" or it was more "hey, that predator ran away because it thought it was a snake", I don't know.

It's not looking great for my army. They don't even like to fly much and the adults only live for a couple weeks anyway.

At least rationing won't be a problem; adult Atlas Moths don't eat. Nothing at all. They have poorly developed mouthparts so they must subsist on what they built up as a gluttonous caterpillar.

Image: Deanster1983 via Flickr
These greedy caterpillars reach 11.5 cm (4.5 in) long before they pupate. They are armed with little spines that are covered in a waxy substance. I'm wondering if it's something similar to the stuff that nymphs of the Flatid Leaf Bug had. I presume it's a defence against birds and other predators. Even I think they look pretty juicy and I don't think about caterpillars in that way.

And if that doesn't work they spray a load of stinking fluid up to a distance of 50 cm (19.7 in).

Now we're talking! They shall be my artillery. Natural, organic, chemical warfare, because I CARE about this planet!

Next is the world famous Giant Weta from New Zealand. Specifically it's the Little Barrier Island Giant Weta (Deinacrida heteracantha), so named because it now survives only on that small island. They used to exist on the mainland, too, but rats and cats did for this docile, little (massive) handful.

It's almost appropriate, in a way. Giant Wetas are an example of island gigantism, where something small grows big to take advantage of a gap in the ecosystem. In this case, crickets grew to some 10 cm body length so they could browse on vegetation and live the life of a mouse. Mice couldn't cross the water and get to New Zealand, crickets could; waste not want not, right?

Most Giant Wetas seldom get heavier than 35g (1.2 oz), but they can sometimes double that and weigh more than a sparrow! A big complication here is that this is at least sometimes females holding on to huge numbers of eggs. Maybe even abnormal numbers of eggs. They're just bulging and bursting with eggs! They end up weighing over 70 g (2.5 oz) and some people get impressed, others don't.

The problem for my war effort is that they are just too friendly. They can't even jump any more and they don't fly. They can bite but they don't do it often, though their legs are covered in spines that can inflict scratches. I think I'll have to change them up a little so they can become my stormtroopers. Jump in there, smash up the target and get out. May as well add some laser eyes. You can't make an omelette without laser eyes, right?

The Giant Weta was an adult, but what about larva? Yes, even heavier than any known adult is the greedy grub of a Goliath Beetle called Goliathus goliatus. These things can get over 10 cm (4 in) long and weigh over 115 grams (4.1 oz). They live in the soil in parts of Africa and are armed with claws at the end of their legs and a strong bite.

Remarkably little is known about the life and times of a Goliath Beetle larva. Even people who breed them can only say they require a protein-rich diet and may recommend cat food. Cat food! In the wild they might be predatory, or perhaps they're opportunistic and eat pretty much anything. Breeders do note them being a little cannibalistic.

Quite the military asset! Finally, someone who will wantonly eat anyone who happens to get within reach of their pulsating, fleshy body. It's just what I've always wanted!

Just as with those moths, several months of pure eating is devoted to the emergence of an adult after pupation. In this case it's a beetle. A gigantic beetle.

Image: Wikipedia
Goliathus goliatus
Which brings us to the glory of massive beetles! There are 5 really big ones that are thought to vie for position of heaviest and bulkiest insect in the world, all reaching about 50 g (1.8 oz) in weight as an adult. That's their normal, healthy weight, unlike the Giant Weta who was, in at least one documented case, full of eggs and usually weighs more like 35 g (1.2 oz).

So it depends on whether you want to go with averages or remarkable outliers. One might also wonder how heavy one of these beetles would be if they were freakishly heavy individuals in their species.

Anyway, there are 5 of them:


2 Goliath Beetles, Goliathus goliatus and G. regius. Both are scarabs from equatorial Africa who can eat a whole avocado in a day. Both may reach over 10 cm (4 in) in length. As we saw, the grubs eat lots of protein for several months, the adults survive for a few weeks.

Image: ShutterSparks via Flickr
Megasoma elephas
In South America are 2 Elephant Beetles, Megasoma elephas and M. Actaeon. These are scarabs again, and are slightly longer than the Goliath Beetles. Their larvae develop in rotting logs and it may be years before they can pupate, perhaps because their diet is not so rich in protein. Adults live for a few months and feed on tree sap and fruits.

Finally, there is the Titan Beetle (Titanus giganteus) from South America. This thing is a huge longhorn beetle and is one of the longest beetles in the world. They can reach 16.7 cm (6.5 in) in length, and they don't even have huge horns and sticky-out bits to help them out.

The larvae have never been seen but they are thought to burrow in trees and possibly reach 30 cm (a foot) long. The adults have never been seen to eat anything at all, and yet they have powerful mandibles that are said to allow them to bite a pencil in half. Nice!

So all I need is a Super Duper Mega Titan Beetle and it will snap a man's arm with a single bite! And the thing with these stupidly huge beetles is that they are still capable of flight, so they'll be able to take his car, too!

Oh, wow! Joy upon joys! It's a flying tank that doesn't need food and there are just 295 days 'til Christmas!

It's going to be the best New Years EVER


TexWisGirl said...

yucko! giganto bugs! :)

Joseph JG said...

They're sooooo dreamy!

Emily said...

All I can say is... thank goodness for the square/cube law!

Also, the weta is really kind of cute. I love the giant moths, too.

Joseph JG said...

Haha! Yeh! And I know what you mean about the weta, if people can have mice as pets I think the weta could be suitable, too.

Crunchy said...

Ugh. That larva is... just terrible. Thank you so much for sharing it with us. :D

I wonder if anyone's ever been stabbed to death with a beetle (stormtrooper or no). With those horns, you'd think it just might be possible. You'd need a very sturdy beetle, one that wouldn't squish from your kung-fu grip.

Joseph JG said...

It's horrible! It's funny because it looks quite a lot like a caterpillar, only pale, fat and missing legs. It's like a character in a caterpillar's horror story.

And those beetles look pretty sturdy, I really wonder how much damage they could do. Definitely take an eye out!

Anonymous said...

The goliath beetle eating fruit looks cute! I would not want to look after its kids though...

Joseph JG said...

Change that up a little to "looks cute but I wouldn't want to look after it" and it's basically true of almost everything.

ElBandito said...

Holy cow! That's an amazing collection of...well, ridiculously ripped bugs. O_o Seriously, it makes me wish the movie Starship Troopers took some pointers from those guys in designing their alien insects. Hell, even Avatar should've used those guys as references! The Goliath Beetle larva looks terrifying as hell, but then I guess that's the look they're going for in this tough world.

Joseph JG said...

Yeh, it's crazy how big these things can get! I feel it especially when I look at the feet of those beetles and see the huge claws on the end. And their larva are just nuts! I'd love to see a bird fly off at the sight of one!

ElBandito said...

"I'd love to see a bird fly off at the sight of one!"

Dude, I can imagine. There are spiders out there that can take down birds, though I forget what species they're called. Still, I wonder if they're near those famous honey badgers? Are they prey to those hardcore quadrapeds? Or is it an epic rivalry between the two?

Joseph JG said...

I know the spiders and I've seen the pictures. I don't know if I'll ever quite get used to invertebrates eating vertebrates... it just doesn't seem right!

ben268 said...

The Goliath beetle larva are ridiculous! I love bugs, but finding that in my back yard would put me off gardening for the whole season.

Joseph JG said...

It's obscene! I imagine finding one in your garden would be a life changing event.

Crunchy said...

I think it's the Goliath Birdeater Tarantula that eats birds. I've seen pictures of birds caught in the webs of giant golden silk orb-weavers. And I'm sure a Darwin's bark spider has at some point captured and eaten a bird, seeing as they have the biggest and strongest webs and, well, it's a spider. It's not too picky.

What a way to go.

Joseph JG said...

Yeh, there's a few spiders that do it. There are a few ways to go there. You could get overcome by a big tarantula, stuck in a web, poisoned and left to die, or stuck in web and be too big for the spider to really do anything so you starve to death.

So at least you got options. That's always nice.

Aidan Ovidiu said...

Stabbing a person with a beetle? That was...that was worse than that larva!

Joseph JG said...

Haha! So nice to get a bit of morality on here!

Porakiya said...

Hey, at least there are any scientists that are nuts enough to mix different bugs together. I mean, can you imagine a spider/tarantula/camel spider/scorpion/earwig/praying mantis hybrid of a mega monster bug? I certainly can, and have :D (it pays to watch monster movies like godzilla and stuff, what with Megaguirus's creepy-as-all-hell evil smile).

Joseph JG said...

Hopefully scientists don't watch those movies too much. We'll have flying spiders soon enough!

Anonymous said...

I like the moths best.

Joseph JG said...

The moths are great! It's amazing how different they are, yet both so HUGE!

Serite R said...

Thnk god that thing i saw wasnt a roach T-T

Megaloblatta said...

I have to confess that it was me who came up with the rather ridiculous name "megastick" for Phobaeticus chani - Chan's megastick! Stick-insect enthusiasts call these insects "sticks" - so "megastick" was a logical choice for the World's longest "stick". If you want to find out more about this and the World's other largest insects see my book "Big Bugs Life-size" - the North American edition is entitled "Biggest Bugs (Life-size!)". See

PS. I really like your blog.

Joseph JG said...

@Serite R: Haha! Cockroaches wreak absolute havoc in the kitchen!

@Megaloblatta: Hey, thanks a lot! Well done on coming up with "Megastick", it's a really fun name.

That book looks fantastic! I love the idea of those life-sized pictures, I'll definitely have to check it out.

Bob Jensen Photography said...

A photo of the larva of Titanus giganteus was published in the 2005 Japanese book, "Longhorn Beetles of the Amazon 1" by Hisayasu Arai - page 30

Joseph JG said...

OOO, that's cool! I hope I can check that out sometime! Thanks for the info

Breals said...

This is awesome. I have recommended it on

Unknown said...

Scary and I love butterfly

Taibur Rahman Khan said...