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Biggest Bug: Goliath Beetle
Goliathus regius Klug

Beetles are Masters of Planet Earth

The first species of insect that could be called a beetle appeared on earth over 300 million years ago. And they've been here ever since, increasing their numbers, evolving into countless different varieties, and adapting to climates in almost every environment on earth. Of all the billions of insects on earth those belonging to the beetle family are the most numerous of any other species. By sheer numbers alone, beetles have won the title of The Most Successful Form of Life. Beetles inhabit every corner of the globe in all kinds of weather. You could say that we're living on the planet of the beetles.

The Goliath beetle belongs to the scarab family, which contains more than 30,000 species. Not insects - species of insects. That's just 30,000 different types of scarab beetles. There are hundreds of thousands of living beetles of each type, and there are many more types of scarab beetles that have yet to be discovered. The numbers just boggle the mind.

Although there are other giant insects that are longer, or wider than the Goliath Beetle, this guy holds the record for biggest insect because of its mass (or weight). Goliath beetles can grow up to 4.5 inches (11.43 cm) long and weigh up to 3.5 ounces.

Mother Nature's Janitors

goliath beetleThese giants of the insect world like to eat dead plant material and dung (animal feces, you know - poo). We'd be living in a pretty smelly world if there was no one around to clean up and make use of all the fecal material every living thing on this earth produces every day. Think about it - that's an awful lot of poop. Thank goodness for scarabs like the goliath beetle who help to recycle "used material" and keep the earth a clean place to live. They are making efficient use of natural resources.

Have there Been Bigger Bugs?

Goliathus Regius KlugSome Paleontologists have discovered fossils of some cockroaches that were far bigger during the Jurassic period than they are today. Scientists aren't really sure why they were bigger back then, but it may have had to something to do with the warmer climate and the higher oxygen levels in earth's atmosphere. Earth today has warm, tropical zones only around the equator, but during the Jurassic and Triassic periods temperatures around the globe were warmer. As big as the goliath beetles are, global temperatures and oxygen levels in our atmosphere can't support insects growing much larger.

Why Are Beetles so Successful?

It would appear from the success of beetles that Mother Nature loves them. Their incredible ability to adapt to any environment ensures that their presence will continue, probably long after humans have disappeared from earth. One of the most important features of the beetles that makes them distinctly beetles is their elytra - the hard covering over their wings. Elytra have many functions, the most important of which is protection for the beetle.

elytra

Some species are able to trap moisture on their wings and hold it because of the protection from the heat and wind that the elytra offer. This has allowed some species to travel to deserts, where moisture is scarce, because they can carry their own water with them. Other species can live under water because they are able to trap air in their wings and keep it under the elytra.

How do scientists know that the goliath beetle is the largest of all the insects? By doing studies in the field. By, collecting, measuring, cataloging, and labeling them and comparing their finds to known specimens. There are lots of very large insects in the world, many are longer than the goliath beetle (like the giant walking stick). The reason the goliath beetle wins the title of biggest is because of its weight. Of all the insects discovered so far, the goliath beetle is the world's record holder for its mass. There may be others out there, lurking in the jungle, that are even bigger than the goliath beetle. That's what's so cool about being an entomologist - going out into the world and discovering new species of insects never before seen by human eyes. You never know what you'll find around the corner...


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