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Photos: 20 of the biggest insects in the world

These insects are mostly found in oxygen-rich and scarcely populated areas, such as rain forests, that have allowed them to evolve without intrusion.
Many species around the world have maintained impressive sizes.

About 300 million years ago, insects were scales larger than they are today: a shudder-inducing thought for anyone with entomophobia. Griffinflies, for instance, were massive dragonflies with wingspans reaching 28 inches. Insects were able to reach gargantuan sizes largely because the earth's atmosphere was rich in oxygen in prehistoric times. Since then, as oxygen levels have decreased, insects' air pipes have shrunk to adapt, and their bodies along with them.

However, there are still many species around the world that have maintained impressive sizes. They are mostly found in oxygen-rich and scarcely populated areas, such as rain forests, that have allowed them to evolve without intrusion.

Stacker compiled a list of 20 of the biggest insects in the world using various news, scientific, and other sources. However, defining "biggest" can be more complicated than it seems. For instance, the insect with the largest wingspan is Queen Alexandra's birdwing, which can stretch to an entire foot in width. The longest or tallest insect would be Phyrganistria chinensis Zhao, a stick insect that can grow to 24.6 inches. The heaviest insect is the Giant wētā, weighing up to 70 grams.

By all units of measurement, beetles and moths tend to be found in larger sizes more often than other insects. Read on to find out just how big these impressive creatures can get and what that means for their diets, habitats, and defences.

Close-up of large Atlas moth on hand.

Attacus atlas: Atlas moth

- Size: 11-inch wingspan

The Atlas moth is immediately recognizable for its large wingspan, which is covered in a distinct orange-and-white pattern. The largest of the moth species, it is found only in tropical forests in Asia.

Atlas beetle on autumn leaf.

Chalcosoma atlas: Atlas beetle

- Size: 5.1 inches long

Atlas larvae are notably defensive, known to bite anything that touches them, and will fight among each other to death if food is scarce. With a life span of 12 months, the species is found mostly in Indonesia.

Giant grasshopper on grass.

Deinacrida heteracantha: Giant weta

- Size: 8 inches long, 2.5 ounces

The wētā derives its name from the indigenous Maori language, meaning "god of ugly things." It is endemic to New Zealand. Because the nation was void of mammals for an extended period, the wētā could evolve to a rodentlike size, though the introduction of actual rodents to the island has decimated much of its population.

Close-up of Hercules beetle.

Dynastes hercules: Hercules beetle

- Size: 7 inches long

The horn takes up almost half of the body length of male Hercules beetles, though females lack this appendage entirely. The species has been rumoured to be able to carry up to 850 times its body mass, though this may be closer to a still-impressive 100 times its body mass in reality.

Large yellow-and-brown-red imperial moth clinging to the bark of a tree.

Eacles imperialis imperialis: Imperial moth

- Size: 7 inch wingspan

Most of the imperial moth's life is dedicated to pupating, the stage in which it grows from larva to a mature adult. Because of this, it takes great care in choosing a place to settle and pupate, as it will be completely vulnerable to predators during that time. Once an adult, the moth doesn't waste any time eating, instead focusing entirely on mating before death.

Close up of giant longhorn beetle on green leaf.

Enoplocerus armillatus: Giant longhorn beetle

- Size: 5.9 inches long

This insect is spread far and wide across the South American continent, observed in Argentina, Colombia, French Guiana, Guyana, Venezuela, Trinidad and Tobago, Ecuador, Peru, Brazil, Bolivia, Paraguay, Panama, and Suriname. It is recognizable by its long black antennae and light brown wings.

Mydas fly sitting on flower.

Gauromydas heros: Mydas fly

- Size: 2.8 inches long, 3.9-inch wingspan

The Mydas fly's greatest defense is its ability to perform convincingly. By imitating the sting of more threatening wasps and bees, it successfully wards off predators. It is also a natural predator itself, commonly eating other flies.

Close-up of Goliath beetle on branch.

Goliathus regius: Royal goliath beetle

- Size: 4 inches long, 2.5 ounces

Found across central Africa, this is the largest of all beetles, able to grow to nearly the size of a human hand. It typically nourishes itself on fruit, bark, and tree sap; it has also been raised in captivity on a diet of cat and dog food.

Close-up of giant water bug.

Lethocerus grandis, Lethocerus maximus: Giant water bug

- Size: 4.7 inches long

If you haven't heard of a giant water bug, you might be thinking of one of its many nicknames, including "toe-biters, Indian toe-biters, electric-light bugs, alligator ticks, or alligator fleas." These bugs call freshwater streams and ponds its home. They are also a popular snack in Southeast Asia.

Top view of European stag beetle on tree stump.

Lucanus cervus: European stag beetle

- Size: 3 inches long

The European stag beetle has long front mandibles, which males use for both courting females and wrestling opponents. The species' population is growing smaller, partly due to over-clearing in forests.

Close-up of Sabertooth longhorn beetle on brown background.

Macrodontia cervicornis: Sabertooth longhorn beetle

- Size: 6.7 inches long

This species has extra-long mandibles, thus earning the Macrodontia prefix (translating to "long tooth"). It spends most of its life as larvae, a stage extending for up to a decade. It is found in rain forests in Ecuador, Peru, Brazil, Colombia, and Bolivia.

Close-up of giant burrowing cockroach on tree bark.

Macropanesthia rhinoceros: Giant burrowing cockroach

- Size: 3 inches long

These creatures are native to Australia and can weigh up to 1.2 ounces. Unlike other cockroaches, they do not have wings. They are natural composters, feeding on dead leaves.

A small male Megasoma actaeon on white background.

Megasoma actaeon: Actaeon beetle

- Size: 5.3 inches long

This beetle gets its namesake from Actaeon, a hero of Greek mythology who was transformed into a stag. It can be found across South America, including in French Guiana, Guyana, Panama, Peru, Bolivia, Brazil, Suriname, Colombia, Ecuador, and Venezuela.

Mars elephant beetle on branch.

Megasoma elephas: Elephant beetle

- Size: 5.1 inches long

The elephant beetle can be found in the rain forests of central and South America. Males use their horns to battle others over mating partners and food supply—not by injuring, but by forcing others away.

Close-up of a Queen Alexandra's birdwing butterfly.

Ornithoptera alexandrae: Queen Alexandra's birdwing

- Size: 11-inch wingspan

This species is the largest butterfly on Earth. It was named after Queen Alexandra of Britain, wife of King Edward VII, who sat on the throne at the beginning of the 20th century. It has marked sexual dimorphism, meaning males and females have very distinct appearances.

Tarantula hawk wasp on flower stem.

Pepsis pulszkyi: Tarantula hawk

- Size: 2.7 inches long, 4.5-inch wingspan

True to its moniker, the tarantula hawk is a wasp with the remarkable habit of eating tarantulas, despite being dominated in size by the spider. To do this, they immobilize the tarantula by stinging them, dragging them away, and consuming them whole. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the tarantula hawk also packs a punch against humans, able to deliver a painful—but nonlethal—sting.

Giant stick insect on leaf.

Phryganistria chinensis: Stick insect

- Size: 25.2 inches long

The stick insect's name is the key to its natural defense system: When predators are nearby, this species camouflages itself among twigs and branches to hide. These insects can even lose (and later regenerate) limbs or play dead to further evade danger.

Close-up of a huge Chinese praying mantis.

Tenodera sinensis: Chinese praying mantis

- Size: 7 inches long

Though this bright green insect mostly relies on other insects for nourishment, it has been observed to eat small reptiles and mammals from time to time. The species has a decently large population in the United States thanks to its eggs being commercially available to the public.

Titan beetle on leaf.

Titanus giganteus: Titan beetle

- Size: 6.6 inches long

The Titan beetle is an insect to be reckoned with: When cornered, it will make a hissing sound to ward off predators, and its jaw is strong enough to penetrate human skin if necessary. This beetle is also so large that it cannot take off through wing power alone; it needs to first launch itself off of a tree to fly.

Giant South American grasshopper on green leaves.

Tropidacris: Tropidacris grasshopper

- Size: 5 inches long, 9-inch wingspan

The Tropidacris grasshopper uses colour to protect itself: Nymphs use black and yellow to ward off predators, while grown adults adopt green, yellow, and brown to camouflage themselves. It also hears via the belly: its tympanal organ, which is in the abdomen, completes this task. The antennae, on the other hand, house its sense of smell.

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