Friday, October 17, 2008
Nearly the length of a human arm, a recently identified stick bug from the island of Borneo is the world's longest insect, British scientists said Thursday.
The specimen was found by a local villager and handed to Malaysian amateur naturalist Datuk Chan Chew Lun in 1989, according to Philip Bragg, who formally identified the insect in this month's issue of peer-reviewed journal Zootaxa. The insect was named Phobaeticus chani, or "Chan's megastick," in Chan's honor.
Paul Brock, a scientific associate of the Natural History Museum in London unconnected to the animal's discovery said there was no doubt it was the longest extant insect ever found.
Looking more like a solid shoot of bamboo than its smaller, frailer cousins, the dull-green insect measures about 22 inches (56.7 centimeters), if its delicate, twig-like legs are counted. There are 14 inches (35.7 centimeters) from the tip of its head to the bottom of its abdomen, beating the previous record body length, held by Phobaeticus kirbyi, also from Borneo, by about an inch (2.9 centimeters).
Stick bugs, also known as phasmids, have some of the animal kingdom's cleverest camouflage. Although some phasmids use noxious sprays or prickly spines to deter their predators, generally the bugs assume the shape of sticks and leaves to avoid drawing attention.
"Their main defense is basically hanging around, looking like a twig," Brock said. "It will even sway in the wind."
For Bragg, who works as a schoolteacher and catalogues stick bugs as a hobby, the discovery showed the urgency of conservation work.
"There aren't enough specialists around to work on all the insects in the world," he said. "There's going to be stuff that's extinct before anyone gets around to describing it."
The Phobaeticus chani is now a part of the Natural History Museum's "Creepy Crawlies" gallery. It went on display Thursday.