7 New Giant Bug Species Are Extremely Aggressive

The newfound katydids are also among the biggest, bulkiest insects on Earth, a new study says.

Seven new species of katydids are among the largest and bulkiest insects in the world, a new study says.

Found only on the island of Madagascar, the bugs have the "biceps" of a bodybuilder and can be very aggressive—both surprising traits for katydids.


A new species of brighty colored giant katydid, Oncodopus brongniarti. The insects can reach lengths of over 2.5 inches.
PHOTOGRAPH BY GEORGE BECCALONI

“If you get anywhere near them, they will try to grab you with their powerful forelegs and pull your finger toward their mandibles to give you a nasty bite,” says study co-author George Beccaloni, former curator of katydids and related insects at London’s Natural History Museum. (Beccaloni avoided such injuries by using long forceps to grasp the katydids.)

“I haven’t seen that defensive behaviour in any other katydids."


Giant fighting bug filmed for first time. In Madagascar, a female katydid displays a fighting stance.

STRANGE BEDFELLOWS

Beccaloni and colleagues identified the new species based on museum specimens and samples collected from two trips to Madagascar’s dry forests.

On one expedition, Beccaloni was searching for cockroaches, his specialty, in sheltered areas under rocks and loose bark when he stumbled upon the strange katydids, which can reach lengths of nearly 2.5 inches. (Read about all-pink katydids discovered in Borneo.)

The carnivorous katydids could eat the cockroaches, but the two species appear to tolerate each other, notes Beccaloni, whose study appeared recently in the journal Zootaxa.

“Such shelters are scarce, and it's likely that both the katydids and cockroaches require them for protection against the intense daytime heat and predators,” says Beccaloni.

LIFELONG LOVES?

Intriguingly, he found several male-female pairs katydids resting side by side—possibly a clue that the insects mate for life, he says.


Some of the newfound katydids were discovered in male-female pairs (pictured, Oncodopus brongniarti) that suggest the insects could be monogamous.
PHOTOGRAPH BY GEORGE BECCALONI

“The possible monogamous, long-term pair formation behaviour recorded in this paper is unknown for any other crickets or bushcrickets [another term for katydids], as far as I’m aware,” Karim Vahed, an entomologist at the University of Derby in the U.K. who was not involved in this research, wrote in an email.

“Some crickets show short-term mate-guarding, in which the male stays with his recent mate for an hour or so in order to repel rival males.” 


These giant katydids (pictured, the previously known species C. grandidieri) live in Madagascar's dry forests, which haven't been intensely studied by entomologists.
PHOTOGRAPH BY GEORGE BECCALONI

Monogamy is rare among insects, but it is not unheard of. For instance, some burying beetles stick together to care for their young.

Both experts agree that further research is needed, such as determining whether males follow females outside of their shelters.

DRY FORESTS IN DANGER

It might seem odd that science is only now recognising such huge insects.


A close up of C. grandidieri, a previously identified species of giant katydid in Madagascar.
PHOTOGRAPH BY GEORGE BECCALONI

That's partly because entomologists have focused mainly on the country's rain forests, rather than the dry forests that cover much of Madagascar.

“This is a shame, because the dry forests are even more unusual and special, yet few people know about them and the great threats they are facing,” says Beccaloni.

“Some of these habitats, like the spiny forest, are unlike anything else on the planet, with baobab trees, spectacular succulents, and octopus trees.”


A specimen of one of the new species, M. desutterae.
PHOTOGRAPH BY MUSTAFA ÜNAL

The forests are shrinking due to human activities such as deforestation for charcoal, he adds.

“Considering how threatened Madagascar’s habitats are, it should be a priority to document all the species there before they disappear."

Follow Mary Bates on Twitter.

Lead Image: In Madagascar, a female katydid displays a fighting stance. Photo from footage by Martin Bader. 

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