Record-breaking insect goes to extraordinary lengths

Press release - 16 October 2008

The world’s longest insect has been revealed by the Natural History Museum. Measuring more than half a metre, the length of this stick-insect is almost as long as your arm.

The thin-bodied creature, which goes on display in the Museum Creepy Crawlies gallery, has just been named Phobaeticus chani (Chan’s megastick) and is an incredible 56.6 centimetres with its legs fully stretched. This is more than one centimetre longer than the former record holder for overall length, a stick-insect called Phobaeticus serratipes found in Malaysia and Indonesia. Without including its legs, the new species measures 35.7 centimetres, winning the insect world record for the longest body and beating the previous title-holder, Phobaeticus kirbyi from Borneo, by 2.9 centimetres.

‘We’ve known about both the previous record holders for over 100 years, so it’s extraordinary an even bigger species has only just been discovered,’ said Dr George Beccaloni, curator of stick-insects and their relatives at the Natural History Museum. ‘It is a sad thought that many other spectacular insect species are disappearing as their habitats are destroyed, before we have had the chance to find and name them.’

Although virtually nothing is known about the biology and ecology of this super-sized insect, it is thought it probably lives in the canopy of the rainforest, making it especially hard to find.
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 (the flying sports ball in the Harry Potter books), allowing them to drift in the wind when the female drops them, therefore helping the species spread.

There are around 3,000 known species of stick-insect, mainly living in the tropics and subtropics. Although they do not occur naturally in Britain, three species from New Zealand have become established in the southwest of England and the Isles of Scilly.

Only three specimens of the new insect have so far been found, all from the Malaysian state of Sabah on the island of Borneo. The insect’s namesake, Datuk Chan Chew Lun from Sabah, obtained the first and largest known specimen from a local collector and has donated it to the Natural History Museum. The other two specimens are in collections in Sabah. British scientist Dr Philip Bragg described and named this stick-insect for the first time this week in the journal Zootaxa.

Ends

Notes for editors

  • The Entomology Department is one of six science departments at the Natural History Museum. The Entomology collections amount to 28 million specimens stored in 140,000 drawers. Scientists in the department study insects and other terrestrial arthropods, including spiders and mites in a wide range of research projects across the world.
  • Selected by Time Out in 2007 as one of the Seven Wonders of London, the Natural History Museum is also a world-leading science research centre. Through its collections and scientific expertise, the Museum is helping to conserve the extraordinary richness and diversity of the natural world with groundbreaking projects in 68 countries.

For more information or images, please contact:
Jane Lucas
Tel: 020 7942 5189 Email: press@nhm.ac.uk
(not for publication)