10 of the largest insects in the world
By Bryan Nelson,
Mother Nature Network, 17 February 2016.

The largest insects that ever lived were dragonfly-like bugs of the order Protodonata, sometimes referred to as griffinflies. They had wingspans of nearly 2.5 feet across and huge mandibles, making them formidable predators.

Thankfully, they went extinct a long time ago at the end of the Paleozoic Era. Although insects can't grow quite that large in today's world, there are a few that are nevertheless large enough to give even seasoned entomologists a good fright.

Here's our list of 10 of the largest insects alive today.

1. Titan beetle

Photo: via greenpacks.org

The Amazon rain forest is home to many large beetles, but none of them compares in length to the titan beetle, Titanus giganteus. The titan beetle is the largest known beetle in the Amazon rain forest and one of the largest insect species in the world. They can grow up to 6 1/2 inches in length, according to the Smithsonian.

This gargantuan insect has mandibles that can easily snap a pencil in half, and reportedly they can rip into human flesh, too.

Believe it or not, this beetle is actually a draw for adventurous tourists, and many ecotourism agencies in South America advertise pictures of them in their pamphlets. Like many beetles, the titan beetle can emit a loud hissing sound when it is threatened.

2. Giant stick insects

Photo: Drägüs/Wikimedia Commons

The longest insects on the planet are stick insects, which have evolved a bizarre shape to hide themselves from predators among branches, twigs and foliage. Stick insects are usually nocturnal, staying motionless hidden under plants during the day and then getting up and moving around at night.

The giant walking stick from Southeast Asia is the longest variety, growing to as long as about 2 feet in length. Some species can produce a pungent-smelling defensive spray and some will feign death or even shed a limb to escape the grasp of predators, reports National Geographic. But these bugs are mostly harmless and are often kept as pets.

3. Giant weta

Photo: Mike Locke/Flickr

Endemic to New Zealand, giant wetas are enormous bugs that are related to crickets. The largest giant wetas can weigh in excess of 70 grams (about 2.5 ounces), making them among the heaviest insects in the world. (They can weigh more than a sparrow.) They are too heavy to fly.

They are long too, with bodies measuring as long as about 4 inches not including the legs and antennae.

The insect's name comes from the Maori word "wetapunga" which means "God of the Ugly Things." It earned the moniker because of its frightening looks.

Because these giants are only found on islands, they are an excellent example of island gigantism.

4. Goliath beetle

Photo: Museum de Toulouse/Flickr

Based on weight and bulk, goliath beetles are strong contenders for the title of largest insects on Earth.

Native to Africa, males of these species can grow to over 4 inches, and can weigh as much as 100 grams (3.5 ounces) in their larval stage. They typically don't move much in the mornings when it is cool and stay in a lethargic state, reports the Royal Museum for Central Africa. But once they are warmed by the sun, they become more active. They'll fly away when they are frightened.

Though they are believed to be primarily vegetarian in the wild, they have shown a voracious appetite for protein in captivity, and captive beetles are often fed dog and cat food.

5. Atlas moth

Photo: internets_dairy/Flickr

Common across the Malay archipelago, these bird-sized insects are considered the largest moths in the world. They are so big that their cocoons are occasionally used as purses in Taiwan.

The total area of their wings can measure more than 60 square inches and their wingspans can measure at least 1 foot in length. Atlas caterpillars can be over 1 inch thick!

Some say the moth is named after Atlas, in Greek mythology. He was the Titan condemned by Zeus to hold the sky upon his shoulders. The name refers to the sheer vastness of the moth's size.

6. Tarantula hawk

Photo: tdlucas5000/Flickr

These enormous wasps are so large and ferocious that they are capable of hunting and feeding on tarantulas. According to the BBC, female tarantula hawks like to tackle tarantulas because the spiders' large size makes them a perfect meal for the wasp's larger-than-average offspring.

Their legs have hooks on the ends which they use to latch onto their victims, and their stinger (which can be as long as a third of an inch) is rated as among the most painful in the world.

Luckily, they are mostly docile unless harassed, but this is one mean bug you wouldn't want to encounter!

7. Giant burrowing cockroach

Photo: CSIRO/Wikimedia Commons

Also called the rhinoceros cockroach and the litter bug, this insect is the heaviest cockroach in the world.

Oddly enough, this is one roach you may want to keep around. Unlike other cockroaches, the rhinoceros cockroach doesn't have wings, isn't considered to be a pest, and plays an important role in its ecosystem by breaking down dead leaves. Some people have found that they make good pets.

Found in Australia, these bugs can live for as long as 10 years and can grow to over 3 inches in length.

8. Queen Alexandra's birdwing

Photo: Mark Pellegrini/Wikimedia Commons

The largest butterfly in the world, Queen Alexandra's birdwing lives up to its name with a wingspan of more than 1 foot.

Found only in remote regions of Papua New Guinea, the first specimen ever found was taken down using a shotgun. Though it was only discovered in the West in 1906, this gentle giant is already considered endangered by the IUCN, primarily because of encroaching development in its native habitats, mostly from palm oil plantations. The species is very highly prized by butterfly collectors and fetches a high price on the black market due to its rarity.

9. Giant water bug

Photo: Alpha/Flickr

These enormous insects, also known as toe-biters and alligator ticks, can reach lengths rivalling some of the largest beetles in the world. Giant water bugs can grow as long as four inches.

Known as voracious predators in the streams and ponds where they live, giant water bugs can deliver a painful bite (thus the nickname "toe-biters") with their giant pincers. When they grab their prey, they use their beaks to inject them with poisonous digestive juices, reports Scientific American. They wait a few minutes, then suck up the resulting liquid dinner.

Nonetheless, in Thailand they are considered good eating, and are often attracted, harvested and collected using black lights which draws in the insects.

10. Acteon beetle

Photo: JohnSka/Wikimedia Commons

Megasoma acteon, another of the giant beetle species in the Amazon rain forest of South America, can reach lengths of more than 5 inches long and can grow as thick as 1.6 inches.

It has a formidable armour like most beetles and very powerful legs that have large claws that help the beetle grip trees. In fact, due primarily to its massive size, adult acteon beetles have almost no natural predators.

However, acteon beetles are sometimes kept as pets by children who live in the rain forest.

Top image: Model of a Meganeura giant dragonfly at the Museum of Natural History, Berlin. Credit: Gunnar Ries Amphibol/Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA 3.0.

[Source: Mother Nature Network. Edited.]

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