This Is The Largest Known Insect of All Time, With a Wingspan of 2.5 ft (75 cm)

Griffin flies are the largest known insect species to have ever lived on earth. They are the representative of the extinct dragonfly.

A life-size model of the Permian griffin flies Meganeura. Image credit: Gene McCarthy

The largest living insect species we know today are the atlas moth (which sport the largest wings by surface area at 160 cm2 or 25 in2), the white witch moth (which has the largest wingspan at almost 30 cm or 12 in), and the goliath beetle, the heaviest insect at 115 g (4.1 oz).

The ancestors of any animal tend to be bigger than the species we have today. The same goes for insects. Giant griffin flies such as Meganeura monyi and Meganeuropsis permiana are the largest known insect species to have ever existed. These can have about three times a wingspan than an atlas moth, i.e- 75 cm (28 in).

However, their body masses can be uncertain, varying between 34 g and 240 g, up to more than twice the size of the goliath beetle.

Atlas moths have the largest wings, by surface area, of any living insect. Image credit: Cocos.Bounty/Shutterstock

The crunchy sound whenever someone steps on a cockroach is called the exoskeleton.  It is also present in other insects, however, it is not so hard, and different parts of the body vary its strength.

The most flexible part of griffin flies is their wings, hence those are most likely to be fossilized. 

A beautifully preserved fossil of a Meganeuropsis permiana, the largest insect known to have ever lived on Earth. 

Griffinflies existed on earth some 20+ million years during the Late Carboniferous and Late Permian periods around 317-247 million years ago.

Meganeura monyi was the first griffin fly to be described, based on a single fossil wing about 12 inches long. It had an estimated wingspan of about 27 inches (about 68,5 cm). They were the largest insect till 1939 when  Frank Carpenter described Meganeuropsis permiana. It was based on large wings discovered in two parts. He calculated the wingspan to be 9 inches (almost 75 cm). After some years Carpenter described another new species of griffin fly, Meganeuropsis Americana, with a wingspan similar to that of M. permiana.

Recently scientists believe two species of Meganeuopsis to be the same. This species still holds the record of being the largest known insect to have lived on earth.

Size comparison of the largest Carboniferous arthropods. Image credit: Emily Stepp

Some people still ask the question that why there are no gigantic dragonflies around today.

The answer to that is the Late Paleozoic period of Earth’s past was unique. The Late Carboniferous and Early Permian existed vast coal swamp forests. It created massive amounts of oxygen by photosynthesis which created a hyperoxic atmosphere, with oxygen levels far in the quantity than today’s levels.

This Is The Largest Known Insect of All Time, With a Wingspan of 2.5 ft

As lungs are absent in insects they breathe through the trachea. A series of tubes connected to the outside. Because there is more oxygen in the air they absorb more and become giant body sizes. 

However, in the Permian period, the oxygen levels started to decrease the air started to get drier. This led to the extinction of these giant insects. Today’s oxygen level is so low to allow these giant insects to grow naturally. 

Author: Prayagni

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