The largest insect that ever lived, the Dragonfly-like Meganeuropsis, had a wingspan of 28"

Originally published at: https://boingboing.net/2020/01/09/the-largest-insect-that-ever-l.html

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Cool, but Arthropleura, while not an insect, was even more impressive.

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Can we bring them back? just think of all the mosquitoes those guys could eat.

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Or babies.

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Tricky. Insects do not have proper lungs - they breathe through their skin. Permian air was 30% oxygen. Many of these animals went extinct in the Great Dying when the level dropped to about half that.

However, there have been proposals that we could raise the oxygen level in hospitals and homes for the elderly. This would encourage recovery, have some antibiotic effect, and enforce a smoking ban. Also two-footer dragonflies.

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Insects spend most of their lifes in larval form, and for many the winged adults’ only job is to reproduce. Yeah, modern dragonflies have a long adult period where they hunt on the wing, but that isn’t the norm. I would first wonder about the larval ecology of meganisoptera, as that likely had a lot more to do with their size.

Modern insects that are strong fliers have developed a large thorax to contain large wing muscles and sternites to handle the strain. That fossil has a really worm-like body with no apparent extra space for large wing muscles. My first guess would be that the larvae were really big aquatic hunters and adults needed wings big enough to carry the large mass, but that they were not really aerial predators like modern dragonflies

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enforce a smoking ban.

Or everyone would smoke, briefly.

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You know, the thought of getting eaten alive by any animal is horrifying, but when it’s a giant insect the horror seems exponentially larger.

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GLAAAHHH! I have enough trouble with current centipedes, let alone these hunting horrors!

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Oh yeah? Well Meganeuropsis is all like, Bring it millipede, I’m gonna fly up high and drop rocks on you. But then Pterodactyl swoops down and eats 'em both.

Kids today don’t know how tough we had it back in the lower Carboniferous. Just look at this clip from the documentary animated film Turu the Terrible:

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Well perfect then we could bring these guys back to life and keep them in special zoos. If they escape they suffocate and die. No fuss. What could possibly go wrong?

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Sounds like they were aerial predators:

These show a globose head with large dentate mandibles, strong spiny legs, a large thorax, and long and slender dragonfly-like abdomen. Like true dragonflies, they were presumably predators.

A few nymphs are also known, and show mouthparts similar to those of modern dragonfly nymphs, suggesting that they were also active aquatic predators.[3]

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I think they left this particular horror out of ‘The Mist’. All for the best.

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Wikipedia unfortuantely has no citations for the thorax or mandibles, so I did a quick search. There were lots of related species with only a handfull of fossils of their bodies, but there are some fossils from France of a ~20cm wide meganisoptera with large thorax and mandibles.

So my second guess is that at least some of the species were aerial predators. Personally, I’d love to see it in action

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The subsequent Jurassic Park reboot.

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I found an ichneumon wasp crawling under some scrap lumber here in Minnesota this past August, and I tell you, it was a beast of an insect, like God’s own attack helicopter.

Below is a generic picture I grabbed off the web, my bug was similar:

images

Update: The picture, which shows the wasp hunched up and contracted, does not do justice to the length and power of the torso.

Imagine the body as a capital letter J, the top of the J being the shoulders, and the hook of the J being the underslung ovipositor. It’s a fearsome thing to see.

Also, those “whiskers” are four to five centimeters long, obviously used for hunting in the manner of fishermen trolling their lines.

Last word: The discovery of ichneumon’s parasitic behavior was distressing to many learned people in Darwin’s day. How could God be good, and yet design a creature so monstrous, so cruel?

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Previously, on BoingBoing:

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Dragonfly nymphs are freakin’ scary, even at their small size. They have projectile jaws like an Alien xenomorph. If you put a dragonfly nymph in an aquarium with a bunch of other aquatic invertebrates and come back an hour or so later, all that’s left is the dragonfly nymph. They even eat small fish up to 3x their size.

A dragonfly nymph the size of the ones that would go with one of these big things would deter me from going into the water much more than any shark.

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I’m sorry, but this scene from “The Caveman”, with Dennis Quaid and Ringo Starr was the first thing that came to mind.
https://youtu.be/xcyZ8pnAwcQ

photo

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