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Observations

Opinion, arguments & analyses from the editors of Scientific American

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

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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

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

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