Discover 10 of the most extreme insects on Earth. Each day leading up to the final day of Virtual Hokie BugFest, we will release a NEW extreme insect for you to learn all about!

STRONGEST

Bull-Headed Dung Beetle

Bull-headed Dung Beetle
Photo credit: Reiner Richter, 2015; Photo source: https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/25737366

Other fun facts:

  • You can tell males from females because males have a pair of curved horns on their head; whereas females are hornless. This difference between sexes is called “sexual dimorphism.”
  • Bull-headed dung beetles have been introduced to different areas to control sheep and cattle manure.
  • This species of beetle is only 0.5 to 1 cm long.
  • Scientific name: Onthophagus taurus
  • Extreme fact: The bull-headed dung beetle is able to lift 1,141 times its weight. It is the strongest animal based on a weight to lift ratio.
  • Comparison: Its strength is similar to a human pulling 6 buses. Humans can typically lift 1 to 1.3 times their bodyweight.
  • Present in VA: Yes
  • Range: Widespread (Australia, the Middle East, Central Asia, United States, and Europe)
  • Habitat: Grasslands and savannas
  • Diet: Dung generalist (meaning it eats the poop of a wide variety of animals)
  • Predators: Birds, lizards, small mammals, scorpions, spiders, beetles, and vinegaroons
Map of Range - Bull-headed Dung Beetle
Range Map

LARGEST WINGSPAN

White Witch

White Witch
Photo credit: Cullen Hanks, 2019; Photo source: https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/20525579

Other fun facts:

  • The caterpillar (or juvenile form) of this moth is currently unknown.
  • Hercules and atlas moths have greater wing area but smaller wingspans.
  • Other common names for this insect include Birdwing Moth, Gavilana, Ghost Moth, Great Grey Witch, Great Owlet Moth, Moon Moth, or Strix Moth.
  • Stray individuals may end up in the United States due to storms.
  • Scientific name: Thysania agrippina
  • Extreme fact: The white witch has a 12-inch wingspan, the largest wingspan of any moth or insect in the world.
  • Comparisons: A cardinal, the Virginia state bird, has a 10-inch wingspan. Wandering albatross have a 12-foot wingspan, the largest wingspan of a bird.
  • Present in VA: No
  • Range: Uruguay to Mexico
  • Habitat: Rainforests
  • Diet: Adults do not feed. It is not known what the caterpillars feed on, but it is believed that they eat the leaves of some tree species.
  • Predators: Birds, lizards, and spiders
Range Map of White Witch
Range Map

SMALLEST

Fairy Wasp

Fairy Wasp
Photo credit: John T. Huber, John S. Noyes, and J. Read, 2013; Photo source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Dicopomorpha_echmepterygis.jpg

Other fun facts:

  • Fairy wasps are smaller than some single-celled amoeba species in the genus Paramecium.
  • Male fairy wasps live their entire life cycle inside the host’s egg.
  • The males are wingless and eyeless.
  • Scientific name: Dicopomorpha echmepterygis
  • Extreme fact: Male fairy wasps measure 138-240 μm, and females measure 550 μm. This is approximately 1/150th of an inch, about ½ the width of a period!
    Comparison: The smallest vertebrate, a frog called Paedophryne amauensis, measures 7-8 mm, approximately 14 to 30 times larger than the fairy wasp.
  • Present in VA: Yes
  • Range: Eastern North America and California
  • Diet: Fairy wasp larvae live in and eat barklice eggs. Adults are likely nonfeeding.
  • Predators: Unknown
Range Map of Fairy Wasp
Range Map

LOUDEST

Shrill Thorntree Cicada

Shrill Treethorn Cicada
Photo credit: Adrian John Armstrong, Martin H. Villet, 2019; Photo source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Brevisiana_brevis_m.jpg

Other fun facts:

  • Shrill thorntree cicadas are approximately 1 inch long.
  • The empress cicada, Megapomponia imperatoria, may be louder but has not been recorded.
  • Scientific name: Brevisana brevis
  • Extreme fact: The shrill thorntree cicada produces a sound that reaches 106.7 decibels at 50 cm (~ 20 inches) distance. This is about as loud as a chainsaw!
  • Comparison: Blue whales, which are over 800 times larger than the cicada, produce sounds at 188 decibels. The loudest human scream is about 129 decibels.
  • Present in VA: No
  • Range: Africa
  • Diet: Tree sap
  • Predators: Birds, spiders, lizards, and small mammals
Range Map of Shrill Treethorn Cicada
Range Map

LARGEST NEST/COLONY

Argentine Ant

Argentine Ant
Photo credit: Robert Lord Zimlich, 2011; Photo source: https://bugguide.net/node/view/507317

Other fun facts:

  • The Mediterranean supercolony along with a California supercolony and a Japanese supercolony are thought to form a disconnected global “mega-colony” from the same genetic stock.
  • Argentine ants are vectors of viral diseases that can infect bees and other ant species. One virus causes bees to develop deformed wings.
Range Map of Argentine Ant's Largest Supercolony
Range Map of Largest Supercolony
  • Scientific name: Linepithema humile
  • Extreme fact: Lives in a supercolony, many individual colonies connecting to form one larger colony, that is 3,700 miles long in the Mediterranean; containing billions of workers and millions of queens.
  • Comparison: Population of countries the supercolony is present in:
    • Spain: 47 million people
    • Portugal: 10 million people
    • France: 67 million people
    • Italy: 60 million people
    • Total: 184 million people
  • Present in VA: No
  • Range: Largest supercolony
  • Habitat: Grasslands, wetlands, human distrubed areas
  • Diet: Arthropods, small amphibians, small reptiles, honeydew, and fruits
  • Predators: Various beetles, flies, lizards, frogs, salamanders, spiders, parasitic wasps, nematodes, mammals, and birds
Range Map of Argentine Ant
Range Map

HIGHEST JUMPER

Meadow Spittlebug

Meadow Spittlebug
Photo credit: Katja Schulz, 2020; Photo source: https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/57987088

Other fun facts:

  • Meadow spittlebugs are 7 mm long.
  • Immatures, also known as nymphs, form a foam cover to protect themselves from predators, hence the name spittlebug.
  • Also known as the Meadow Froghopper, Common Spittlebug, Common Froghopper, and Cuckoo-spit Insect.
  • Scientific name: Philaenus spumarius
  • Extreme fact: The meadow spittlebug can jump 2 feet in the air, which is 87 times its body length.
  • Comparisons: This is similar to a 5 ½-foot person jumping 478 feet or 44 stories high. The South African sharp-nosed frog can jump about 11 feet - 6 to 8.5 times higher than spittlebug.
  • Present in VA: Yes, but it is invasive
  • Range: North America, Europe, North Africa, and Northern Asia
  • Habitat: Meadows and grasslands
  • Diet: Plant sap
  • Predators: Birds, spiders, ants, wasps, beetles, and flies
Range of Meadow Spittlebug
Range Map

LONGEST PROBOSCIS

Morgan's Sphinx Moth

Morgan's Sphinx Moth
Image source: KQED QUEST - Some rights reserved.
Morgan's Sphinx Moth Range Map
Range Map
  • Scientific name: Xanthopan morganii
  • Extreme fact: The Morgan’s sphinx moth has a proboscis that is 1 foot in length. A proboscis is a long, straw-like mouthpart that some insects use to drink fluids.
  • Comparisons: This would be like a 5-foot-tall person with a 20-foot-long tongue! Giant anteaters are 6-7 feet long and have an approximately 2-foot-long tongue, which is the longest vertebrate tongue.
  • Present in VA: No
  • Range: Southern Africa
  • Diet: Caterpillars (the juvenile form of the Morgan's sphinx moth) feed on plant leaves in the Soursop family. Moths (the adult form) feed on flower nectar.
  • Predators: Birds, frogs, lizards, spiders, small mammals
Morgan's Sphinx Moth
Image source: https://www.britannica.com/plant/Angraecum-sesquipedale#/media/1/25242/157393

Other fun facts:

  • The Morgan’s sphinx moth has a 6-inch wingspan and approximately 3-inch-long body.
  • It is the sole pollinator of the Madagascar orchid.
  • The long proboscis is a result of coevolution with the Madagascar orchid, which has a foot-long nectary.
  • A subspecies of the moth, Xanthopan morganii praedicta, was named for Alfred Russel Wallace predicting that there would be an insect with a foot-long proboscis to match the foot-long nectary of the Madagascar orchid.

MOST EGGS LAID

Driver Ant

Driver Ant
Image Credit: Bernard Dupont, 2008; Image Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Army_Ants_(Dorylus_sp.)_(7073859635).jpg

Other fun facts:

  • Males get the name "sausage fly" for their round elongate appearance.
  • Each colony can have around 20 million individuals.
  • Driver ants are mostly nomadic, only forming temporary anthills.
  • East Africa tribes will use the soldier ants as surgical staples due to their great bite force.
  • Scientific name: Dorylus wilverthi
  • Extreme fact: The driver ant queen lays 3-4 million eggs every 25 days.
  • Comparisons: Greasy grouper (a fish), Epinephelus tauvina, lays 340 million eggs in a single spawning season.
  • Present in VA: No
  • Range: Africa and Southern Asia
  • Habitat: Forests
  • Diet: Reptiles, amphibians, birds, mammals, and other arthropods
  • Predators: Birds, chimpanzees, pangolins, and aardvarks
Range Map of Driver Ant
Range Map

LONGEST LIFESPAN

Fungus-Growing Termite

Fungus-Growing Termite
Image Source: https://termiti.czu.cz/cs/

Other fun facts:

  • Unlike ants, fungus-growing termites have a king that continuously mates with the queen.
  • The mounds are specially designed to maintain temperatures through specialized ventilation.
  • Termites are actually a group of cockroaches that live in large colonies, similar to how ants are ground dwelling wasps that live in large colonies.
  • Scientific name: Macrotermitinae spp.
  • Extreme fact: Fungus-growing termite queens can live for 50 years; some researchers think they may live up to 100 years.
  • Comparison: The average human lives for 79 years, with the oldest human being 122 years old. The bowhead whale, which is the longest lived mammal, can live to be 200 years old. The second longest lived insect are the periodical cicadas which live for 17 years.
  • Present in VA: No
  • Range: Africa and Southeastern Asia
  • Habitat: Savanna
  • Diet: Fungus, farmed inside the colonies on plant matter
  • Predators: Ants, aardvarks, pangolins, and birds

FARTHEST MIGRATION

Wandering Glider

Wandering Glider
Photo credit: Ravi Naidu 2019; Photo Source: https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/34865119

Other fun facts:

  • The Wandering Glider is a small dragonfly at 2 inches long.
  • It utilizes thermals to glide in flight, similar to Vultures.
  • It is the most widespread dragonfly being present on every continent except Antarctica, though they are rare in Europe.
  • Also known as the Golden Glider, Rainpool Glider, Globe Skimmer, and Globe Wanderer.
  • Scientific Name: Pantala flavescens
  • Extreme fact: They travel 8700-11000 miles, migrating between continents. This was discovered when the genes of populations as distant as Texas and India were evaluated and found to be nearly identical.
  • Comparisons: Monarch Butterflies travel 3,000 miles on their southward migration, Arctic Terns can travel up to 50,000 miles as they travel from one pole to the other
  • Present in VA: Yes
  • Habitat: Ponds and Lakes
  • Diet: Small flying insects like Flies, Mayflies, and Moths
  • Predators: Birds, Fish, Frogs, Larger Dragonflies
Range Map of Wandering Glider
Range Map