There are bugs, and then there are super bugs – the biggest, fastest, deadliest creepy crawlies on the planet. Here are eight of the strangest and scariest. If you’re brave… read on!
New Zealand is the home of some of the world’s largest insects – the giant wetas. The largest of these flightless crickets can grow to the size of a mouse. It’s so big and heavy that it can’t leap away from danger, and relies on scaring away its enemies by hissing at them like a snake.
With stout hairy legs, the Goliath spider is the biggest spider on Earth. A massively built tarantula whose body grows to 14 centimetres (5 ½ in) long, it prowls the forest floor at night-time in search of large insects, lizards and even the occasional snake.
Although it can use its huge, hollow fangs to inject prey with a paralyzing dose of venom, the Goliath spider often relies on sheer muscle power to overwhelm and kill its victims.
Caterpillars are easy targets for hungry birds, which devour them in huge numbers. Many caterpillars protect themselves with irritating bristly hairs, but some take self-defence even further. The saddleback caterpillar has hollow spines capable of injecting an intensely painful venom. Its startling colours serve as a warning to birds, wasps and other enemies.
The insects, spiders and other bugs with hard external skeletons evolved from an ancient group of animals with soft bodies and flexible legs. Some of these creatures still flourish in moist, warm forests, and one of them is the velvet worm. Resembling soft-bodied centipedes, these night hunters creep around searching for insects and worms to snare with lassoes of sticky slime.
Many spiders use silk to snare prey, but few are quite so ingenious as the net-casting spider. Like a miniature owl, this night hunter has a huge pair of main eyes for targeting prey in the gloom. It hangs from a simple web near the ground, its four front legs holding a tiny net made from super-stretchy silk. When an insect strays within range, the spider watches and waits, then suddenly extends its legs to stretch the net wide. As the insect touches the net, the spider lets the elastic silk spring back and trap its victim. It’s all over in less than a second.
The tropical giant centipede is a fearsome predator, able to kill a tarantula with a single venomous bite of its fang-like claws (forcipules). It’s almost blind, but locates its prey by scent and touch, allowing it to the hunt in the dark. The giant centipede can grow up to 30 centimetres (6 inches) long.
Leaf insects have evolved the most spectacular camouflage in the animal kingdom. They're relatives of stick insects, but with flattened green or brown bodies that look almost exactly like leaves – with leaf midribs, veins and even dark marks that mimic leaf damage. Their legs have broad plates that look like the remains of leaves that have been nibbled by other insects. This astonishing disguise helps protect them from birds, which hunt by sight among the trees for insect prey, and don’t notice the leaf insects hanging among the foliage.
Wolf spiders are agile, speedy predators that hunt by sight on the ground with the help of their big, dark eyes. With a lifespan of two to three years, these spiders are mostly nocturnal, solitary hunters, but some wait to pounce on passing prey.
In the photo above, these baby wolf spiders have just hatched, and are climbing out of the silk egg sac on to their mother’s back. They ride with her for about a week until they shed their skin a second time and can take care of themselves.
Not scared away yet? Super Bug Encyclopedia, a stunning visual encyclopedia of the tiny creatures of the insect world, showcases incredible feats of endurance, defence, strength, and speed. Zoom in to the world of creepy crawlies and discover the secrets of the most successful creatures on the planet!