BugInfo Incredible Insects

  • The Most Annoying Insect: Many would agree that it is the tiny biting fly known as a "punkie" or "no see-um, " so small it can fly through the fine screening of a door or window.
  • The Most Beautiful Insect: Widely accepted to be the Sunset Moth from Malagasy (Madagascar), a day-flying moth of rainbow colors.
  • The Most Bizarrely-shaped Insect: Arguably, various species of treehoppers, Family Membracidae (Homoptera), with incredible structures that resemble thorns and barbs on their pronota (backs). Others with odd shapes are violin beetles and giraffe weevils. A Thorn Bug (Membracid). The bug looks so much like the nearby thorn, that animals that would like to eat it have trouble finding it. 
  • The Most Destructive Insect: Believed to be the Desert Locust, existing in areas from Africa to India, which eats its own weight in food each day, and devours great amounts of grain and vegetation when traveling in swarms (20,000 tons consumed daily by such a swarm).
  • The Most Dangerous Ant: Doubly dangerous, the Black Bulldog Ant of Australia, stings and bites at the same time and has been known to cause death in humans.
  • The Fastest Flying Insect: Dragonflies are known to travel at the speed of 35 miles an hour. Hawk Moths, which have been clocked at a speed of 33.7 miles an hour, come in second.
  • The Heaviest Insect: A Goliath Beetle from tropical Africa, weights in at 3 1/2 ounces.
  • The Heaviest Water Insect: The Giant Water Bug of South America, tips the scales at nearly two ounces.
  • The Longest-jumping Insect: One species of fleas jumps 150 times their own body length.
  • The Longest Insect: A newly discovered stick insect in China is 25 inches long, replacing the Malaysian stick insect at 20 inches.
  • The Longest-lived Insect: The queen of termites, known to live for 50 years. Some scientists believe that they live for 100 years.
  • The Oldest Fossil Butterfly or Moth: A Lepidoptera fossil found in England is estimated to be 190 million years old.
  • The Loudest Insect: One species of cicadas can be heard for a quarter of a mile
  • The Largest...
    • Ant: The Driver Ant of Africa, the worker caste reaching one and 1/3 inches.
    • Beetle: The nearly 8-inch, Long Horn Beetle, Titanus giganteus, from South America.
    • Butterfly: The White Birdwing of the Solomon Islands in the Pacific Ocean, with wings that span twelve inches.
    • Fly: A robber fly from South America, with a body of nearly 2 1/2 inches in length.
    • Moth: The Hercules Emperor Moth of New Guinea and Australia, with a wing span of 10 1/2 inches. The wing span of the Atlas Moth is 12 inches, but wings of the Hercules Emperor Moth include a larger area (some 40 square inches).
    • Swarm of Locusts: A swarm of locusts covering an area of 2,000 square miles crossed the Red Sea in 1889, and was estimated to weigh 500,000 tons and contain 250 billion (250,000,000,000) individual locusts.
    • Termite Mound: A mound from Australia, 20 feet high and 100 feet in diameter at the base. From Africa, mounds have reached 42 feet in height, but with only a 10 foot diameter base.
  • The Smallest...
    • Group of Insects: The zorapterans, Order Zoraptera, with about two dozen known species.
    • Insect: A Fairyfly Wasp - some adults are known to be only .0067 of an inch in length.
    • Ant: A Sri Lankan ant, with a length of only one thirtieth on an inch.
    • Beetle: The widely distributed, Feather-Winged beetle, Nanosella fungi - smaller than the period at the end of this sentence.
    • Butterfly: The Dwarf Blue of South Africa, with a wing span of only half an inch.
    • Moth: A micro-lepidopteran from England, with a wing span of one-ninth of an inch.

Prepared by the Department of Systematic Biology, Entomology Section,
National Museum of Natural History, in cooperation with Public Inquiry Services, 
Smithsonian Institution, 1996