World's longest insect revealed

16 October 2008

The world's longest insect, a 56.7cm-long stick-insect from Borneo, is revealed at the Natural History Museum today.

Datuk Chan Chew Lun donated the spectacular specimen to the Museum and you can see it on display in the galleries from today.

This species is new to science and has recently been named Phobaeticus chani (Chan's Megastick is the common name).

Only 3 specimens

Datuk Chan Chew Lun donates this spectacular specimen to the Museum.

Datuk Chan Chew Lun donates this spectacular specimen to the Museum.

Only three specimens of the new insect have been found so far, all from the Malaysian State of Sabah on the island of Borneo. Datuk Chan obtained the first and largest known specimen (a female) from a local collector. The other two specimens are in collections in Sabah.

Previous record-holders

This specimen is more than 1cm longer than the previous record holder for overall length, which was a stick-insect called Phobaeticus serratipes found in Malaysia and Indonesia.

Not including its legs, Chan's Megastick measures 35.7cm, winning the insect world record for the longest body. It beats the previous title-holder, Phobaeticus kirbyi, from Borneo, by 2.9cm.

'We've known about both of the previous record holders for over a hundred years, so it is extraordinary that an even bigger species has only just been discovered,' said Dr George Beccaloni, stick-insect expert at the Museum.

Hard to find

Close-up of head of stick-insect Chan's Megastick

Close-up of head of stick-insect Chan's Megastick

Although virtually nothing is known about the biology and ecology of this super-sized insect, it is thought that it probably lives in the canopy of the rainforest, making it especially hard to find.

'It is a sad thought that many other spectacular insect species are disappearing as their habitats are destroyed, before we have even had the chance to find and name them,' George said.

Amazing eggs

Egg of Phobaeticus chani stick-insect has wing-like extensions that allow it to drift in the wind.

Egg of the Phobaeticus chani stick-insect. It has wing-like extensions that allow it to drift in the wind.

In addition to its size, its eggs may also be unique in the insect world. Each egg capsule has wing-like extensions on either side like a miniature golden snitch, allowing them to drift in the wind when the female drops them, thereby helping the species to spread.

3000 species

There are around 3000 known species of stick-insect, mainly living in the tropics and subtropics. Although they do not naturally occur in Britain, three species from New Zealand have become established in the south-west of England and the Isles of Scilly.

Once this specimen is removed from public display, it will join the Museum's 70 million other specimens, which scientists from around the world use to carry out scientific studies.

British scientist Dr Philip Bragg described and named this stick-insect and details are in the journal Zootaxa .

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