It’s estimated that there are over 5.5 million insects on Earth. Of those, only about 1 million have been studied and described. These insects come in all shapes and sizes, but today we will be focusing on the largest insects in the world.
An insect is described as being a small arthropod animal that has six legs and one or two pairs of wings. This means that while we think of slugs, snails, and spiders as bugs, they actually aren’t insects. Most insects fall into a few categories. Beetles, butterflies, crickets, dragonflies, bees, flies, and ants.
The Largest Insects in the World
In this article, we will be taking a look at 11 of the largest insects in the world. While some of these insects might give you the creeps, you’ll find others are incredibly beautiful.
1. Atlas Moth
Scientific name: Attacus atlas
The atlas moth is one of the largest moths in the world with a wingspan of over 10 inches. Found all over Asia, this giant only lives about 5 days after emerging from its cocoon.
The atlas moth does not eat after its metamorphosis and relies solely on the energy it created as a caterpillar. This means atlas moth caterpillars spend almost all their time eating.
Found in the same area as cobras, scientists believe the wings on the atlas moth are meant to mimic the head of a cobra. This mimicry helps the moth escape predation from birds and lizards who may otherwise make it a snack.
2. White Witch Moth
Scientific name: Thysania agrippana
The largest of the moth family, the white witch moth has a wingspan of up to 12 inches. Other names for this behemoth include moon moth, birdwing moth, ghost moth, and great owlet moth. These mysterious moths have been found all over the neotropics and as far north as Colorado.
Interestingly enough, very little is known about the breeding habitats or larval stages of the white witch moth. Scientists have been studying the moth for decades and, despite dedicating lots of time and resources, they are still no closer to finding where these moths come from.
3. Hercules Moth
Scientific name: Coscinocera hercules
The Hercules Moth is found in the tropical forests of Australia. They typically live about 10-15 days after they emerge from their cocoon and all of this time is spent reproducing.
Males will spend their time searching for females who give off strong pheromones to attract their mates. Females will then spend most of their time after mating laying eggs. She will lay up to 40 eggs which will then hatch in about a month.
Once hatched, these moths spend roughly 3 months in their caterpillar stage, where they do very little other than eat as much food as they can. This food will have to last the Hercules Moth its entire life, as after it spins its cocoon it won’t eat again.
The wingspan of these huge moths is what puts them on this list. At a huge 12-14 inches, this moth gives all the other insects a run for their money.
4. Royal Goliath Beetle
Scientific name: Goliathus regius
These huge beetles are roughly 3-4 inches as adults. While that sounds small compared to the wingspan of the butterflies on our list, these beetles are one of the heaviest insects around. Weighing in at 80-100 oz in their larval stage and 40-50 oz as adults, it’s incredible how good these creatures are at flying.
Goliath beetles, like most beetles, have two sets of wings. One is a hard outer set called the elytra. This set is solely for the protection of the beetle and of its more fragile flying wings.
When the goliath beetle is ready to fly, its elytra lifts up like Lamborghini doors and its second set of wings unfurls. These beetles are found in the tropical forests of Africa. While they may look intimidating, they feed almost exclusively on fruit and tree sap.
5. Hercules Beetle
Scientific name: Dynastes hercules
The Hercules beetle is a species of rhinoceros beetle. This family of insects is named for their rhino-like horns and their massive size. However, unlike their namesake mammals, they are completely harmless to people. Hercules beetles had an inspiration for their name as well.
These large beetles are the strongest in the world and capable of lifting things that are over 850 times their body weight. This insane strength is what prompted scientists to name them after the mythical Hercules. These massive insects are over 7 inches long and weigh nearly ⅓ of a pound.
This means they can lift over 100lbs. While they can do this, it’s unlikely they ever would, as it would likely sap all their energy and leave them incredibly weak and vulnerable to predation.
Fun fact: If you have ever seen the movie A Bug’s Life, the character Dim is actually a rhinoceros beetle.
6. Titan Beetle
Scientific name: Titanus giganteus
The Titan beetle is another giant species that is over 6 inches in length. Some argue that the titan beetle is larger than the Hercules beetle since the horn of the Hercules beetle makes up most of its size.
Titan beetles are found in the Amazon rainforest and are not nearly as friendly as some of the other species on this list. Their strong jaws are capable of snapping a pencil and doing considerable damage to human flesh.
7. Queen Alexandra’s Birdwings
Scientific name: Ornithoptera alexandrae
The only butterfly on the list is Queen Alexandra’s Birdwings. These beautiful butterflies are sexually dimorphic, with females having brown wings that are an average of 10 inches, and males having beautiful blue-green wings that are around 6 inches.
Native to the forests of Papua New Guinea, these butterflies are rare and listed as endangered. So endangered that they are one of only a few butterfly species to be regulated CITES appendix 1.
CITES is an agreement that regulates the international trade of certain endangered or threatened species. There are three levels of CITES protection and 1 is the highest level.
8. Tarantula Hawk
Scientific name: Pepsis grossa
Tarantula hawks are actually large wasps. Females can reach 2 inches in size, while males are significantly smaller. This species is found as far north as Kansas and as far south as Mexico and, as its name suggests, feeds mostly on tarantulas. While these wasps are quite intimidating and considered to have the worst sting of all insects, they are also quite beautiful.
Tarantula hawks have orange wings and either a metallic blue or black body. Their beauty has even led them to become the state insect of New Mexico.
9. Giant Stick Bug
Scientific name: Phobaeticus serratipes
Once thought to take top spot for largest insects in the world, one female was measured to be over 21 inches long. These interesting insects evolved to look like sticks in their native habitats in Sumatra, Singapore, and Malaysia.
Purely herbivorous, these stick bugs live high in forest canopies feeding on leaves. Interestingly, when these bugs breed, the female will lay one egg at a time and throw it into the air where it will fall to the ground and later hatch.
10. Giant Wetas
Scientific name: Deinacrida heteracantha
Giant Wetas are members of the cricket family that can reach up to 4 inches in size. These insects are nocturnal herbivores that live only on Little Barrier Island in New Zealand. These solitary animals used to be found all over New Zealand, but predation by invasive species has removed them from much of their native range.
11. Giant Water Bug
Scientific name: Lethocerus americanus
Giant water bugs are found in the northern states of the United States and Canada. These insects live in slow-moving waterways such as ponds and lakes. Here they hide out in and on plants and wait for their prey to present themselves.
Giant water bugs are ruthless predators that feed on basically anything smaller than them. They grab their prey with their front legs and then inject venom, which begins the process of breaking down the insides of the prey animal.
These bugs grow up to 4 inches in size and will not hesitate to defend themselves from humans by biting. The same toxin that decomposes their prey can cause reactions in humans and is very painful.