Some people, it seems, aren’t grossed out by anything. Others get the heebie-jeebies just thinking about bugs. Insects are the largest “animal” group on Earth, making up somewhere around 90 % of all living creatures, and also more than half of all living organisms—that includes plants, amoeba, lichen, fungi…. So whether you’re creeped out or enthusiastic about these beings, they’re not going anywhere anytime soon.
Instead of being afraid, or avoiding them – which is utterly impossible – why not learn some cool factoids on our insect friends. Maybe you’re not part of a culture that eats insects, but it takes all sorts and if you’re ever in a pinch, they are supposedly high in protein.
Insects have been the subject of literature (Jiminy Cricket), comics and film (Spiderman), and have been used as props in television shows (cue The Amazing Race). Artists draw, paint and even sculpt them. We lather toxic liquids on our skin to keep them away from us, use netting over our beds to avoid them, burn special candles to repel them, zap them with special lights that make neat popping noises when they fry…. If insects could return the favor, would they? These creatures are, for the most part, fairly benign, and many of them actually serve an important function in our world. We so often avoid or ignore them, that we may miss out on some of the most fascinating creatures on earth. If you long to be fascinated or disgusted, read on about ten of the world’s biggest bugs…
10.Actaeon Beetle: Nobody fights with this guy!
This giant is named after a mythological hero, the Theban Actaeon who was trained by Chiron the centaur. Is there any heroism to this huge beetle? If size is anything to go by – this insect from the family Scarabaeidae can grow up to more than five inches long. It is the world’s second largest beetle, and although we can’t vouch for its bravery, it has a wide and heavy body, strong legs and large tarsal claws. Found in South America, the Megasoma Actaeon is in the larval and pupa stage for three years, and has a lifespan after birth of less than half a year. Now that’s a tragedy worthy of any hero – Greek or South American!
9. Giant Water Bug: Good eating
This toe-biting creepy-crawly has the Latin name Belostomatidae. Found worldwide, namely in North and South America, East Asia and Northern Australia, this bug also goes by the aliases alligator-tick (Florida), electric-light bug (for its buggy habit of flying around electric lights), toe-biter and Indian toe-biter. Does it bite? It is, in fact, carnivorous, preying on crustaceans, fish and even water reptiles. When encountering humans they play dead. If this doesn’t work they can strike, piercing flesh and injecting a digestive saliva said to be one of the most painful bites possible, though of no medical threat. In Thailand, they are a tasty treat, fried, dipped in sauce and even used as stuffing!
8. Queen Alexandra’s Birdwing: Largest butterfly
Indigenous only to Papua, New Guinea, this mammoth butterfly is an endangered species. With a wingspan of one foot or 30 centimeters long, the habitat of this beauty is being encroached upon by loggers and the cultivation of oil palm, coffee and cocoa, making living conditions disappear for the Birdwing, who lives high at the top of the rainforest canopy. The butterfly was “discovered” by an Edwardian naturalist in 1906 and was named after Edward VII’s wife. Is this endangered insect truly royalty? It is not clear, but as the larvae feed on toxic plants, the butterflies do not taste good to prey.
7. Giant burrowing cockroach: Good pet?
Growing up to 3 inches or 7.5 cm long and weighing as much as 1 oz. or 30 grams, this insect that garners an instinctive reaction of sheer repulsion in most people is really quite docile. Most cockroaches have wings, but not this one who is also, in fact, quite ecological—they recycle! Feeding dry leaves to their young who live inside burrowed holes, this insect contributes to a natural process of turning the earth as well as a sort of composting. Found only in Australia, people sometimes see these cockroaches crossing the road in packs. Humans sometimes make pets of the giant cucaracha, who can live up to 10 years.
6. Tarantula Hawk: Biggest wasp
So called because they hunt and feed on tarantula spiders (they actually feed it to their larvae), this ‘hawk’ wasp is enormous and has the worst sting of any wasp. It is also considered to have the second-most painful sting in the world. The female’s sting paralyses tarantulas, allowing time to drag the unlucky victim to the wasp’s lair. Luckily its bright colors act as a warning to predators (and others who wish to stay away), a good thing, as the feet of this wasp end in hooked claws for grappling and the stinger alone can be up to one-third of an inch or 7 mm long. All the better to bite you with…
5. Atlas Moth: Largest moth
No one knows whether this biggest of moths (they have 62 square inches of wing surface area, or 400 cm²) was named after the mythological Greek Titan or because of the map-like patterns on its wings. Whichever is the case, it certainly is a behemoth! A subspecies of this colossus is said to be the inspiration for the Japanese monster of film and literature, Mothra (called kaiju in Japan). These creatures like subtropical and tropical dry forests of Southeast Asia and the Malay Archipelago. Even their cocoons are beautiful, creating a durable silk (used non-commercially) by locals.
4. Goliath Beetle: Eats cat food!
Named after the biblical giant, these beetles are almost unmatched when factoring in all of weight, bulk and size. These vegetarian bugs live in tropical African forests and eat fruit and tree sap as well as animal dung, recycling “used” material. Regardless of their normal feeding preferences, in captivity they are raised from egg to full-fledged beetle on cat or dog food for the high protein. The males can grow up to 11.43 cm or 4.5” in length, and weigh up to 3.5 ounces. As a pet, the beetle can live for up to a year in this last phase of its life, or less in the wild due to the elements and predators.
3. Giant Weta: Island giant
This insect that looks like a massive cricket lives in New Zealand. 16 of 70 known weta species are endangered due to human impact (destruction of much of the weta’s natural habitat) and the introduction of non-native predators, such as hedgehogs, cats, rats and mustelids (of the weasel family). These nocturnal bugs are mainly herbivores, but will eat smaller insects. They will live just about anywhere—sort of your garden-variety couch surfer—including caves, grass or shrub lands, in forests, under rocks or rotting logs, and even in pre-formed burrows. Not picky, are they?
2. Giant Stick Insect: The longest
An expert at camouflage, this guy is over 55 cm or 21” long with its legs outstretched. Of the order Phasmida (gesundheit) this creature is nocturnal. The stick insect hides during the day (under leaves, which it eats —what an all-purpose snack!) and comes out at night. It lives predominantly in tropical and subtropical regions, though there are species in more temperate parts. They are so accustomed to living like twigs, these scrawny creatures will sometimes shed a limb to get away from a predator.
1. Titan Beetle: Flesh-eater?
Titanus giganteus is not a spell from Harry Potter or something we made up. This literal titan of beetles indigenous to the Amazon Rainforest can grow up to seven inches in length and has such powerful jaws it’s reputed to be able to snap a pencil in half and can even pierce flesh. Females are rarely seen: they spend their time waiting for a male to fertilize their eggs. Males, on the other hand, can be seen crawling up trees where they launch themselves on short flights—they are so large they have trouble lifting off from the ground! They spend their entire short life in scarab form looking for a mate, not even stopping once to eat, but relying on their energy stores from the pupa stage.