HUGE aquatic insect reported (and other big bugs)

July 25, 2014 • 10:12 am

Yes, yes, I know that true bugs are only from the order Hemiptera, but I’m using “bugs” in the vernacular, as “insects.”

Scientific American reports, in an article by Bec Crew, the discovery of the world’s largest aquatic insect. Well, it’s the world’s largest known aquatic insect.

Images have surfaced of a newly discovered insect reported to be the largest aquatic insect in the world. Found in the mountains of Chengdu in China’s Sichuan province, the specimen boasts a wingspan of 21 cm. While very little is known about the specimen at this point, it’s been identified as belonging to the order Megaloptera, which includes about 300 described species of winged alderflies, dobsonflies and fishflies.

Just as this new find is so far pretty mysterious, members of Megaloptera are also fairly poorly known. As larvae, they spend all of their time in the water, only venturing out once it’s time to pupate and become adults. While they’re usually found in clean, clear streams, rivers, swamps, ponds and lakes, they’re also perfectly capable of sustaining themselves in muddy and polluted water, which makes them extra hard to spot.

Yes, that’s a chicken’s egg next to this creature, and for those of you who are metric-disadvantaged, 21 cm is about 8.25 inches (just divide centimeters by 2.54).  And of course by “aquatic insect,” Crew means, “adult insect which spends its larval stages in water.”

megaloptera-egg
Credit: China News Service/Zhong

As adults, they enjoy relatively short lifespans, and use the vast majority of this time to find mates. They end up with enormous tusk-like mandibles and mouthparts as adults, but at this point they’re pretty much done eating anything at all, so the males use them to attract females and then hold them in place while they mate.

Megaloptera
Credit: China News Service/Zhong

As Crew reports, this is not the heaviest adult insect in the world; that honor goes to the Little Barrier Island giant weta, Deinacrida heteracantha, a wingless cricketlike insect from an island off New Zealand. One of these monsters weighed in at 71 grams (again, that’s 2.8 ounces; divide by 28.3).That is three times heavier than a house mouse, but the insect was abnormally gravid (full of eggs).

I’m sure you want to see one; here’s a picture taken from a Gizmodo article:

17ff9e22nn1mzjpg-1
From the Daily Mail: Image by Mark Moffett/Minden Pictures/Solent

What about the largest of all insects? Sure enough, Wikipedia has a page of “largest insects,” measured in various ways—weight, length, etc. And if you consider larvae instead of just adults, then there’s something that outweighs the giant weta:

The title of heaviest insect in the world has many rivals, the most frequently crowned of which is the larval stage of the goliath beetle, Goliathus goliatus, the top size of which is at least 115 g (4.1 oz) and 11.5 cm (4.5 in).

Wanna see it? Here (it’s from central Africa):

larva-goliathus

The Wikipedia page is fascinating, and is precisely the kind of Internet site on which biologists waste precious time. But I can’t help but provide one more fact: the longest known insect:

The longest known stick insect is Phobaeticus chani, with one specimen held in the Natural History Museum in London measuring 567 mm (22.3 in) in total length. This measurement is, however, with the front legs fully extended.

It’s other name is “Chan’s megastick,” named after a Malaysian naturalist.

Here you go:

phobaeticus-chani

Only six specimens of this insect are known; all come from Sabah in Borneo.

26 thoughts on “HUGE aquatic insect reported (and other big bugs)

  1. Why doesn’t the chunky cutie at the top have a name yet? Or am I just not reading good?
    These pictures are making me hungry.

  2. As a nurse, I’ve seen or smelled many festering wounds and bedsores, cancerous holes eaten through jaws and chest walls, and various odiferous fluids leaking from natural and unnatural holes. I can take that any day to an insect large enough to carry off a small child. I had to fast forward through this section. Ugggggg.
    Sorry for the explicitness of my rant but I do so dislike big bugs (or any bugs for that matter.)

    1. +1

      I also am more repulsed by insects and their larva than I am by guts and gore. I am confident this was implanted in me by my older sister who was terrified and would scream frantically at the site of bugs – including butterflies. I have learned to keep my cool in front of my kids, externally, but my blood still runs cold, my heart races and my insides churn when I have to deal with pests around the house or insects in the wild. I’ve come across rattlesnakes on hikes and felt only fascination, but let something buzz my ear and I may scream like a little girl.

      Long story short, I had to set my lunch aside to read this post. Eeesh. I am envious of anyone who doesn’t suffer this unfortunate fear.

      1. Wow! Even butterflies? I guess Bart Simpson was wrong, some actually do suspect the butterfly!

    1. I pick up and handle all manner of bitey crawly things, but I understand your view on that one. The big crickets and katydids can give a nasty bite, and many are aggressive when picked up.

        1. We have wetas in our garden (not of the size illustrated, fortunately). They live under bark or in tunnels in the ti tree. They can reputedly give a nasty nip but fortunately are not poisonous. They always seem such clumsy bloated insects to me, I’m afraid they’re going to do themselves an injury.

          My formative experience with wetas was, helping to survey in the ‘bush’, I cut clean through a one-inch ti tree trunk with my machete – and a weta popped out of the end and sat there six inches from my face. The surveyor heard my scream of shock from fifty yards away and knew immediately what had happened.

          1. I was getting my picture taken in the bush somewhere in NZ and I was fearful of seeing a Weta. It is ally aunt’s fault for freaking me out.

  3. I love this post. I had collected a bunch of humongous Megaloptera larvae (commonly called Dobsonfly larvae) in a stream. They looked like giant centipedes, but were completely harmless and easy to handle.

  4. Awesome! Surprised that the Chinese Megaloptera has never been discovered before! So huge and yet never discovered. Makes me wonder how many other incredible species are still out there ready to be found.

    In the TV series “Man vs. Wild”, Bear Grylls (the man who is battling the wild) actually ate a massive beetle larvae while surviving central Africa’s wilderness. Don’t think it was a goliath beetle larvae, but freakin’ HUGE.
    Warning: not for the squeamish.

      1. To avoid embedding, just remove the “http://” from the url. WordPress will add it back into the url in your post as displayed, but the vid will not embed.

  5. The giant Weta is also found on the mainland. A colleague of mine found one in an area of native bush on a central North Island farm 25 years ago, which made the news. We were both working for the Ministry of Agriculture at the time. I get Weta in my garden. (There’s no ‘s’ in Maori.) I also had one crawling over my foot last summer as I sat at the computer late at night with all the doors and windows open. My garden ones are only about 8cm though. (3 inches)

  6. This is not in fact a new world record as a Megaloptera specimen with a wingspan of 21.5cm is known. It is a female of Acanthacorydalis fruhstorferi and it occurs in the same area of China, making me wonder whether the ‘new’ species is actually A. fruhstorferi.. For more info. about this and all the world’s other largest ‘bugs’ see my book “Biggest Bugs (Life-Size!)” – http://www.amazon.com/Biggest-Bugs-Life-Size-George-Beccaloni/dp/1554076994/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1406383826&sr=8-1&keywords=biggest+bugs

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