Behold, the tree lobster. (Spoiler: not a lobster)

We like to bring you the occasional large invertebrate on this blog. And even a huge vertebrate now and then. But here’s a big insect with a story to tell. And it’s a story that hasn’t – quite – ended yet.

Lord Howe Island stick insect (Dryococelus australis) (c) Granitethighs
Lord Howe Island stick insect (Dryococelus australis)

The Lord Howe Island Stick Insect, or Tree Lobster, Dryococelus australis, is one of the largest insect species in the world. It is a flightless phasmid that lives on trees in the isolated Lord Howe Island chain off the Australian coast. These great creatures were once common enough to be used regularly as fishing bait, but in 1918 a supply ship ran aground there and accidentally introduced the black rat. By 1920 the tree lobster was thought to be extinct, a casualty of the voracious rats which cut a swathe through the native island ecosystem. Continue reading Behold, the tree lobster. (Spoiler: not a lobster)

Nice legs! The world’s leggiest animal is rediscovered.

Last seen in 1928, the colobognath millipede Illacme plenipes is thought to have more legs than any other animal on earth – one female was found with 750 legs, while the males are thought to have a maximum of 562. Despite its legginess the species is actually quite small, even relative to other millipedes. Females grow to just over an inch long; males are slightly smaller. Now scientists from the University of Arizona have rediscovered this elusive beast, and here’s a video of it.

Continue reading Nice legs! The world’s leggiest animal is rediscovered.

Why are there no really big insects any more? Blame birds.

It’s no secret that 300 million years ago, the largest insects were a lot bigger than they are now. The largest known insect that ever lived is an ancient griffenfly Meganeuropsis permiana. This creature belongs to the extinct order of griffinflies (Protodonata) – related to dragonflies –  and measured an impressive 71cm across, larger than most birds. There were a variety of other megainsects in prehistoric times, but these days, the biggest ones are considerably smaller. So what happened?

One fact which is widely considered to be relevant is the limitation of insect respiration. As insects don’t have lungs like us vertebrates, they rely upon oxygen entering their body through many tiny tubes. They can help it on its way with various tricks but in essence, if the tube is too long the oxygen can’t get down it far enough. So an insect that got too big would soon run out of oxygen and find it difficult to fly or run. So how did those huge ancient insects get around that limit? The answer is that they didn’t. In Permian times the atmosphere was more than 30 percent oxygen, compared with 21 percent today. So insects had more oxygen available, and could grow larger.

Continue reading Why are there no really big insects any more? Blame birds.

Four massive wasps

We heard you wanted to see a picture of four massive wasps. So here they are.
Four massive wasps on somebody's hand

These appear to be very dark specimens of Vespa mandarinia, the Asian giant hornet of which more here. I’m not even sure these ones are alive – it would be hard to get them to sit like that naturally, and they all seem to have extended stings which is unusual in life, although quite often happens to insects after death.

A simply enormous fruit bat

It’s not an invertebrate, but even so, we heard you wanted to see a picture of a simply enormous fruit bat. So here it is.

A giant fruit bat

And yes, the perspective on this pic does make it look a bit bigger than it normally would; but tell the truth now, didn’t you notice something else about him as well? Quite definitely a him. If you’re wondering about that, you might want to follow up with this image here (NSFW warning: that last link, whilst biologically accurate, is not suitable for family viewing).

We heard you wanted to see…

…a picture of a simply enormous centipede. So here it is.

Scolopendra heros (c) DamnColorblindness

This is Scolopendra heros, the aptly-named giant red-headed centipede. This one is in Austin, Texas, and was photographed very skilfully – and dare we say, courageously – by Reddit user DamnColorblindness. See his full-sized image here. You can get some idea of the size from the context, but this species is normally 16cm long, with some individuals up to 20cm long. That’s pretty big. Continue reading We heard you wanted to see…

The lucky bustards

Way back in 2005 The Ranger blogged about an unexpected sighting of a flying Great Bustard (Otis tarda)seen over the Channel. It was one of what was then a few reintroduced birds which were at a secret location on Salisbury Plain.

A big bird © Portland Bird observatory

Since then the Great Bustards have been doing pretty well – with quite a bit of help. In 2007 wild Great Bustards bred in England for the first time since 1832. Now they have a great website, too, to explain a bit more about the world’s largest flying birds and the ongoing project to reintroduce them to Salisbury Plain. So, just how big is a Great Bustard? Continue reading The lucky bustards

Check out this massive fly

This weekend The Ranger discovered that the biggest fly in the UK was much bigger than he’d previously thought. Yes, we heard you wanted to see a picture of a simply gigantic horsefly. So here it is.

Tabanus sudeticus (c) Cat James


This is Tabanus sudeticus, sometimes called the dark giant horsefly. It seems, oddly enough, that this impressive insect has not really got a commonly-accepted English name. It’s referred to in one place as the “dark behemothic horsefly”: a charmingly descriptive name, albeit a little cumbersome. Continue reading Check out this massive fly

Giant, venomous, invading alien spiders… again.

Oh, no! An Australian town has been terrorised by giant, venomous spiders.

How the eastern tarantula story appeared in the Times Online.
How the eastern tarantula story appeared in the Times Online.

Newspapers all around the world are recounting the ordeal of the town of Bowen, Queensland – the town recently made famous by Baz Luhrmann’s film Australia – with perhaps a little more relish than is strictly necessary:

“Super-sized tarantulas are spinning a web of terror in a town in Australia.” (Sky News) “Locals have been shocked by the size of the giant venomous spiders that have invaded an Outback town in Queensland” (The Times, Fox News) “It sounds like a remake of the campy horror movie, Eight Legged Freaks. But this is scarier, because it’s really happening” (Los Angeles Times) …and many more.

So, what’s going on out there? Continue reading Giant, venomous, invading alien spiders… again.

Check out this massive crab

We heard you wanted to see a picture of a simply gigantic crab. So here it is.

Coconut Crab (Birgus latro)

Coconut Crab (Birgus latro)

The Coconut Crab (Birgus latro) is the world’s biggest land-living arthropod. It lives in the eastern Pacific region, and, as the name suggests, can crack open and eat coconuts. Actually it will eat all sorts of things; but luckily for us, rarely if ever does it eat live animals.