A newly discovered member of the Megaloptera family may earn an entry into The Guinness Book of Records as the largest aquatic insect in the world. Its wingspan is a whopping 8.2 inches (21 cm). Images of the huge insect appeared on China’s ECNS website on July 21, 2014 and have since gone viral on the internet. The specimen was discovered in the mountains of Chengdu in Sichuan province. (All photos are credited to China News Service / Zhong Xin.)
“Megaloptera is an order of insects which contains the alderflies, dobsonflies, and fishflies, and there are about 300 known species. The order’s name comes from Ancient Greek – from mega- (μέγα-) “large” + pteryx (πτέρυξ) “wing” -, in reference to the large, clumsy wings of these insects. Megaloptera are relatively unknown insects across much of their range, due to the adults’ short lives, the aquatic larvae’s tolerance to pollution which is often rather high (so they are not often encountered by swimmers etc.), and the generally crepuscular or nocturnal habits.
However, in the Americas, the dobsonflies are rather well-known, as their males have tusk-like mandibles. These, while formidable in appearance, are relatively harmless to humans, as well as all other organisms; much like a peacock’s feathers they serve no purpose other than to impress females and, in addition, to hold them during mating. Hellgrammites, which are dobsonfly larvae, are often used for angling bait in North America. The larvae grow slowly, taking several years to reach the last larval stage. When they reach maturity, the larvae crawl out onto land to pupate in damp soil or under logs. Unusually, the pupa is fully motile, with large mandibles that it can use to defend itself against predators. The short-lived adults emerge from the pupa to mate – many species never feed as adults, living only a few days or hours” (source).