Plants and Animals

World's Largest Aquatic Insect Discovered

July 23, 2014 | by Stephen Luntz

Photo credit: China News Service/ Zhong. A new species of insect appears to be the largest to spend most of its life in water

Millions of species of animals and plants have yet  to be identified by science, and thousands are described every year. Not many however, are as spectacular as this little critter. 

The latest arrival is a Megaloptera (appropriately enough meaning large wing) found in Sichuan, China. Information of the new species is sparse, at least in the English-language press. Indeed so far it appears to even lack an official name, but we do have some good photos showing off its 21cm wingspan.

As Scientific American reveals, there are plenty of species that can make a case to be the world's largest insect, depending on whether you categorize by weight, length of wingspan, and this example can't touch any of them. It can however, claim to be the largest insect with a largely aquatic lifestyle.

We know that the other species of Megaloptera spend most of their lives as larvae in water, only leaving when they pupate in damp soil or logs. Their adult lifespans are short and mostly taken up with mating. Despite the huge mandibles on this new arrival, Megaloptera usually don't feed much as adults – the mandibles are both a method for males to show off to females, and to keep hold of them once they've attracted one.

Megaloptera in general are poorly studied because of their short adult life, and their tolerance as larvae for muddy waters where humans seldom go. Such reticence may be further enhanced by the chance of meeting one of these, although Megaloptera are not harmful to humans, at least as adults – that whole not eating thing. Nevertheless, it is known that they have the smallest differences between their larval and adult form of any insects to undergo complete metamorphosis.