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World’s strongest animal effectively benches 1,000 times its body weight

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.


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strongest insect beetle weightEven if a grown man could pull 95,000 kilograms, he still would get shown up by the newly crowned world’s strongest insect—proportionally speaking.

Researchers recently discovered that this honor should go to the Onthophagus taurus dung beetle, whose strongest males can pull some 1,140 times their own body weight, the research team reported in a press release. (Consolations to the rhinoceros beetle, which has frequently been given the title for pulling about 850 times its weight.) The findings came about as part of a study published online March 23 in Proceedings of the Royal Society B.

"Insects are well known for being able to perform amazing feats of strength, and it’s all on account of their curious sex lives," Robert Knell, of the School of Biological and Chemical Sciences at Queen Mary University of London, and lead author of the study, said in a prepared statement.

"Female beetles of this species dig tunnels under a dung pat, where males mate with them. If a male enters a tunnel that is already occupied by a rival, they fight by locking horns and try to push each other out," Knell explained.

But not every male O. taurus is a super-strong prizefighter. Some males are not as big and strong as their big-horned fellows. Instead, these males are fast walkers with super-dense testes, who can sneak into the females’ tunnels, avoiding the so-called "major" males altogether. Once alone with the female, they use their higher sperm count to up their chances at impregnating her in their single shot.

"These different behaviors generate different selective pressures for the two morphs," Knell and his colleague Leigh Simmons, of the School of Animal Biology at the University of Western Australia in Crawley, wrote.

Scientists have proposed that these two behaviors are determined genetically, but Knell and Simmons experimented to see if food deprivation had any affect on how males performed in their respective mating approaches. They found, however, that these beetles were still "able to maintain high expression of strength or testes mass." Stronger than most strongmen, for sure.

Image courtesy of Alex Wild

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  1. 1. candide 11:45 am 03/24/2010

    Ok, what’s next – bug Olympics?

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  2. 2. hotblack 12:57 pm 03/24/2010

    More bug porn!

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  3. 3. chemguy1230 1:09 pm 03/24/2010

    Could this title be more misleading to the content of the article?

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  4. 4. lithiumdeuteride 1:29 pm 03/24/2010

    I don’t see any mention of scaling laws in this article. Insect muscle is not any stronger than mammalian muscle, per mass. It’s just that the mass scales as the cube of the linear size, while the strength scales as the square of the linear size. This guarantees that small animals will have a higher strength-to-weight ratio than large ones, and is the sole reason why these beetles can push 1,140 times their weight.

    Your comparison of a human pulling 95,000 kilograms is inaccurate. You should divide that number by the ratio of the masses of the human and dung beetle.

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  5. 5. lithiumdeuteride 1:29 pm 03/24/2010

    I don’t see any mention of scaling laws in this article. Insect muscle is not any stronger than mammalian muscle, per mass. It’s just that the mass scales as the cube of the linear size, while the strength scales as the square of the linear size. This guarantees that small animals will have a higher strength-to-weight ratio than large ones, and is the sole reason why these beetles can push 1,140 times their weight.

    Your comparison of a human pulling 95,000 kilograms is inaccurate. You should divide that number by the ratio of the masses of the human and dung beetle.

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  6. 6. dskan 1:33 pm 03/24/2010

    Glad you beat me to it. Proportionality arguments are always strongly overstated.

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  7. 7. redredred 2:05 pm 03/24/2010

    Also, if insects were scaled to typical human size, not only would they not be proportionally stronger, their body weight would overwhelm whatever strength they had because of their exoskeletons. I hate this stupid scaling strength discussion and wish they would banish it from all children’t science books, which is where you usually see it cropping up.

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  8. 8. Archimedes 4:27 pm 03/24/2010

    A reasonable hypothesis for the phenomenon mentioned in the original article is that the biochemical and biophysical mechanisms through which such extraordinary strength is exhibited by the dung beetle are significantly different from mammalian, human, and, possibly other insect species. Without further scientific elucidation with regard to the same, speculation on what is causative of such extraordinary strength is merely speculative.

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  9. 9. eddiequest 1:27 am 03/25/2010

    Archimedes, you forgot to take your medicine.

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  10. 10. RJKnell 9:36 am 03/25/2010

    Lithiumdeuteride, I take your point about scaling but the real point of this is that these beetles are really strong *even for insects*. You might like to compare their strength with the best contender for "strongest animal for its body size", the mite Archegozetes longisetosus. This is several orders of magnitude smaller than O. taurus and in a comparable test can resist a pulling force of 1180 times its body weight, whereas the strongest we measured O. taurus can resist 1141 times. That would be a better comparison for the wise and sceptical such as yourself, but doesn’t make as good a story for everybody else.

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  11. 11. karagi 11:51 pm 03/29/2010

    RJKnell, since the mite that you mentioned can resist 1180 times its body weight while the O. taurus can resist only 1141 times its weigh, why didn’t the mite receive the honour of strongest insect?

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  12. 12. RJKnell 3:29 am 03/31/2010

    Karagi, mites are arachnids not insects.

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  13. 13. threebs 4:50 pm 07/5/2011

    Technically, a beetle is not an "animal". It is an INSECT. So, this is a bit disingenuous.

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  14. 14. bdiva 5:29 pm 07/5/2011

    I would just like to know if the dung beetle is an "insect", how is it the strongest "animal"? Please explain…..

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  15. 15. bdiva 5:30 pm 07/5/2011

    I would just like to know if the dung beetle is an "insect" how is it the strongest "animal"??? Please clarify this………

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  16. 16. bdiva 5:33 pm 07/5/2011

    Just saw your comment thank you Threeb’s, I was thinking the same thing!!!

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  17. 17. DarkShadowsX 5:01 am 10/4/2013

    Do they let any idiot write an article on this website?

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