Although most people consider insects to be one of life's little annoyances, the following species are more like something out of a science-fiction movie. It's not likely you'd try to swat one of these.
- South American male acteon beetle (Megasoma acteon): Not only is the acteon beetle regarded the bulkiest insect on the planet, it also has an impressive frame. Males can grow to be three and a half inches long by two inches wide and an inch and a half thick, with three sets of menacing tarsal claws. Its thick, smooth armor and robust thoracic horns make it look like a miniature cross between a rhinoceros and an elephant. It's commonly found in the South American tropics, where it likes to chew on tree sap and fruit.
- Hercules beetle (Dynastes hercules): This beast can grow to be seven inches long. About half of that length is consumed by a threatening, sword-shape horn and a second smaller horn that curves back toward the head. The male Hercules is smooth and shiny with attractive green-and-black wing cases. This beetle feeds on tree sap and lives in North America.
- Giant New Zealand weta (Deinacrida heteracantha): The Maori people of New Zealand call this insect "the God of the ugly things," an appropriate observation. It looks like a thwarted attempt to cross a cockroach with a cricket. The weta's body typically measures three inches in length, excluding its protruding legs and antennae, which can more than double its size. It eats leaves, other insects, fungi, dead animals, and fruit.
- Borneo stick insect (Pharnacia kirbyi): At close to 13 inches in length (20 inches when it stretches its legs), this is the longest insect on the planet. It is also known as the bent twig insect, for its amazing ability to bend its body at an acute angle and stay that way for hours. The female feeds primarily on bramble during the night, and during the day she keeps very still to avoid being spotted by predators. Males are not quite as big.
- Giant Brazilian ant (Dinoponera gigantea): The heavyweight champ of ants measures in at more than one inch, and its ability to lift 20 times its body weight makes it one of the strongest creatures on the planet. It also displays amazing skills of memory, learning, and the ability to correct mistakes. It lives in the wetlands and woodlands of the Brazilian jungle and feeds primarily on lowland plants.
- South American longhorn beetle (Titanus giganteus): This species, also known as the titan beetle, can grow up to six inches long and has extremely powerful legs. The beetle's most prominent--and most menacing--feature is its huge mandible, which can allegedly snap pencils in half. This bug's diet consists of plants, shrubbery, and decaying organic matter.
- Giant Fijian longhorn beetle (Xixuthrus heros): This intimidating native of the Fijian island of Viti Levu has a body length of five and a half inches and emits a frightful hissing noise when challenged. Ounce for ounce, its jaws are as powerful as those of a killer shark. Good thing for humans, it prefers to snack on tropical plants.
- South American giant cockroach (Blaberus giganteus): The baddest of the cockroach clan lives in dark caves and can reach lengths up to four inches. It discourages predators by mimicking the color of noxious beetles and emitting a foul odor. This cockroach will eat anything but prefers fruits and vegetation.
This article was adapted from "The Book of Incredible Information," published by West Side Publishing, a division of Publications International, Ltd.