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Largest aquatic insect in the world found in China

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


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megaloptera-egg

New species of Megaloptera insect, shown with a chicken's egg for scale. Credit: China News Service/Zhong Xin

Hello, giant friend, and welcome. Please step through the hallowed gates of “World’s Biggest” and join your freakishly long, abnormally bulky peers.

Now if you could all just arrange yourselves from largest to least large, that would be a big help, because we here on Earth need to know who wins, it’s very important to us. Also please choose a common household item from the crates to your left and carry it around with you at all times for scale. Rulers don’t count, that’s too obvious. Giant weta, you’re exempt, that carrot will do nicely, but you need to stop chewing on it. And our new giant friend here already has a chicken’s egg, so well done. Please see the swollen angel fairy assistants to have it hard-boiled.

What? Well if everyone would stop flapping their gargantuan wings all at the same time, I wouldn’t have to repeat myself. Wait no. No, stop, everyone stop. We’ve lost the giant burrowing cockroach again. Someone check over the hallowed fence. He’s using a cheese grater for scale, he won’t get far.

****

Megaloptera

The largest aquatic insect ever found. Credit: China News Service/Zhong Xin

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.

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-running-ponies-tusks

Credit: China News Service/Zhong Xin

A 21-cm wingspan is a pretty good bet for the biggest we’ve seen in an aquatic insect, but where does this new species fit into the Largest Insect in the World scale?

The winner is a bit unclear because is the heaviest insect the biggest, or is the longest insect more impressive? Until we find an insect that wins both categories, we’ll have to settle for these colossal contenders:

On the hefty side, we’ve got the Little Barrier Island giant weta (Deinacrida heteracantha) – one very famous specimen of which weighed 71 grams, which is three times the weight of a mouse. Found in a remote region of New Zealand by biologist Mark Moffett, the weta was given a carrot to munch on while her photo was taken.

Weighing in at 58 grams is the larvae of the largest species of moth in the world, the Southeast Asian atlas moth (Attacus atlas), and at around 35 grams is the largest cockroach in the world, the giant burrowing cockroach (Macropanesthia rhinoceros). It’s from Australia, because of course it is.

On the more lanky side is the aptly named megastick – Chan’s megastick (Phobaeticus chani). The body of a female Chan’s megastick measures 35.7 cm, which is a world record for insect body length. Oh and its legs? They’re 56.7 cm long.

How does a really, really super-long fly sound? If you extended the ridiculous legs of the crane fly Holorusia brobdignagius out in front of it and then out the back , the whole thing would stretch to 23 cm. Don’t even click that link, it’s too gross. Nobody needs legs that long.

Related posts:

New Insect Discoveries: Forcepfly With Terrifying Genital Pincers and Tinkerbella, the Minute Fairyfly

This Spider Rollin’, They Hatin’: New Species of Cartwheeling Spider

Trilobite Beetles are Happy Being on Land, Alive in the Present Day

Bec Crew About the Author: Bec Crew is a Sydney-based science writer and award-winning blogger. She is the author of 'Zombie Tits, Astronaut Fish and Other Weird Animals' (NewSouth Press). Follow on Twitter @BecCrew.

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





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  1. 1. megaloblatta 10:11 am 07/26/2014

    This is not in fact a new world record as a Megaloptera specimen with a wingspan of 21.5 cm is known. 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

    Link to this
  2. 2. Bec Crew in reply to Bec Crew 10:45 am 07/26/2014

    Wow that’s good to know!

    Link to this

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