With A Wingspan Of 2.5 ft 75 cm, This Is The World’s Largest Known Insect

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This is the biggest known insect in the world. Its wingspan is 2.5 feet (7 cm).

A huge example of the extinct dragonfly-like group of griffinflies is the largest known bug species that has ever lived on Earth.

The three biggest live insects we know of are the atlas moth (160 cm2 or 25 in2), the white witch moth (wingspan of about 30 cm or 12 in), and the goliath beetle (115 g).

Life-size model of the Permian griffinfly Meganeura. Image credit: Gene McCarthy

The ancestors of insects, like those of most other animal groups, were usually bigger than their current counterparts. There are huge griffinflies among them, like Meganeura monyi and Meganeuropsis permiana. These are the largest known insect species in the world. The atlas moth’s wings are 75 cm (28 in) long, which is three times longer than these species. It is unknown what their largest body weight is, but estimates run from 34 g to 240 g, which means they can get bigger than the goliath beetle.

Atlas moths have the largest wings, by surface area, of any living insect. Image credit: Cocos.Bounty/Shutterstock

There is a sound you can make when you walk on a bug that some people like and others hate. The shell, which is very hard in cockroaches and is made by pinching and breaking it. Other insects’ exoskeletons aren’t always as hard, though, and different parts of the body may have different levels of firmness.

On the other hand, griffinflies’ wings are the strongest parts of their bodies, so they are also the most likely to have calcified. With a few notable exceptions, most griffinfly fossil records are made up of pieces of fossils.

A beautifully preserved fossil of a Meganeuropsis permiana, the largest insect known to have ever lived on Earth. Source


Meganeuropsis permiana was the biggest bug ever known to have lived on Earth. This fossil of one of them is in great shape. Find Out More

During the Late Carboniferous and Late Permian periods, about 317 to 247 million years ago, griffinflies flew around the world for almost 20 million years, spreading all over the world. Their genus had a lot of different species, and experts were always writing about new ones. Not all of them were huge, though; some were smaller than dragonflies today. Others, on the other hand, were so big that they were even bigger than dragonflies.

The first griffinfly to be named was Meganeura monyi, which was based on a single ancient wing that was 12 inches long. When it was first described in 1895, it was the biggest bug that was known to science. Its wingspan was about 27 inches (68.5 cm). On the other hand, Frank Carpenter described Meganeuropsis permiana in 1939 based on a huge wing that was only partially complete and was found in two pieces. Carpenter thought the new species’ wings would be about 29 inches (75 cm) long. A few years later, he wrote about Meganeuropsis americana, a new species of griffenfly whose size was the same as M. permiana’s. The two species of Meganeuopsis are now thought to be the same by scientists, who call them both M. permiana.

For the record, this species is the biggest bug that has ever been found.

Size comparison of the largest Carboniferous arthropods. Image credit: Emily Stepp

But why aren’t there any dragonflies that big in the world today? What made it possible for griffinflies to get so big?

In many ways, the Late Paleozoic period in Earth’s past was different from other times. In the Late Carboniferous and Early Permian times, large coal swamp forests grew and produced a lot of oxygen through something called photosynthesis. This created a hyperoxic climate, where the amount of oxygen was much higher than it is now.

The environment in which these giant insects lived was much different from today’s. Source

Since insects don’t have lungs, they breathe through a set of tubes called the trachea that are connected to the outside world. Oxygen is taken in through the walls of the tubes by easy diffusion. When oxygen levels in the air rose, insects were able to take in more oxygen, which helped them grow very big bodies. According to their bodies, griffinflies are very good at flying, which is very hard on their metabolism and needs a lot of air.

During the Permian era, however, oxygen levels started to drop, and the land became drier at the same time. This could have caused these huge insects to go extinct in the long run. Due to the lack of oxygen in the air today, similar gigantism in busy airborne predatory insects is not possible.

Lifesize model of a meganeura. Source

Griffinflies were kings of the air for a very long time where they lived. Another 100 million years would pass before bats, birds, and pterosaurs came into being, so there were no other active fliers in the sky that could have eaten them.

As you might expect, this has helped them live longer and, some people say, get bigger.

Sources: 123456

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