Insects may all have six legs, but they actually come in all shapes and sizes. And unfortunately for us humans, some of them have evolved to be truly horrifying – these 20 being a case in point. They’re not all harmful, but they’re all, quite frankly, horrible.
20. Asian giant hornet
Hornets are the terminators of the wasp world, and the Asian giant is the largest of the lot. Annually, dozens of people succumb to its potent venom, which is delivered via a 0.24-inch-long stinger. But that’s not all, for its fearsome jaws make it an efficient predator. Indeed, in just one minute a single hornet can decapitate 40 honeybees.
19. Saddleback caterpillar
Hailing from the eastern U.S., this caterpillar is named after the saddle-like markings on its back. But forget the coloration, it’s those spines – which contain venom that causes an excruciating rash – that you need to watch out for. And if that’s not enough, the caterpillar sheds these nasty bristles around its environment as it crawls.
18. Bullet ant
The stings of many ants are rarely a problem for humans, but the bullet ant must have missed the memo. The inch-long creature lurks in the South American rainforest and its sting has been categorized, along with the tarantula hawk’s, as the worst on the planet. Entomologist and sting expert Dr. Justin Schmidt explained that the waves of pain, which last for 12 hours, feel like “walking over flaming charcoal with a three-inch nail embedded in your heel.”
17. Ghost mantis
The appropriately terrifying ghost mantis, before striking its prey, relies on its coloration and leaf-like body to help it blend into the background of its arid African habitat. It may only measure around two inches in length as an adult, but that doesn’t stop it from gobbling down fully grown crickets.
16. Jerusalem cricket
Somewhat confusingly, this insect is not a true cricket, nor does it hail from Jerusalem. It actually lives in the western U.S. and Mexico, where it forages at night for roots and insects. While this two-inch-long critter is capable of creating a foul stench and delivering a nasty bite, it is not venomous. Still, that offers little solace to the males of the species, which often get eaten by the females after mating.
15. Human botfly
Nothing quite gives us the heebie-jeebies like the thought of a parasite squiggling about inside of us. And the human botfly, which comes from Central and South America, is one of the ickiest out there. A larva of this species will enter through a hair follicle or a bite wound from a mosquito, and then grow and develop under the skin for about a month, reaching sizes of well over two inches, before emerging. Disgustingly, patients sometimes feel the maggots moving around beneath their skin.
14. South American silk moth
Silk moths. They sound pretty harmless, don’t they? And yes, the adult moths don’t cause problems. But watch out for the caterpillars, which use their cunning camouflage to disguise themselves against trees in South America. They are, unfortunately for us, incredibly venomous; indeed, they kill a few humans every year. Those bristles on the caterpillar’s body can inject a powerful anticoagulant, which causes hemorrhaging and kidney failure. Not a nice way to go.
13. Bombardier beetle
Did you know that there are over 500 species of bombardier beetle, all of which are capable of squirting hot chemicals from their butt with astonishing accuracy? So here’s the science bit: the spray is caused by a reaction between hydroquinone and hydrogen peroxide – which generates heat and gas and a subsequent explosion from the beetle’s behind. This chemical cocktail is enough to deter any attacking insects or foolhardy human, leaving the beetle free to carry on its day.
12. Assassin bugs
There are thousands of species of assassin bugs, but the vast majority have one thing in common: a large, curved nose. Practically all the species are predators, and when a hapless insect comes close enough to one of them, the assassin bug plunges that proboscis into its prey. Then an injection of saliva helps the bug turn its prey’s insides into something like a milkshake, just ready for slurping. Delicious.
11. Manticora tiger beetle
Just like other tiger beetle species, the Manticora is fast, aggressive, agile and will eat anything it can catch. Yet this African species is the biggest one out there, reaching lengths of over 2.5 inches. It’s even been seen wolfing down wolf spiders.
10. Puss caterpillar
Nope, it’s not Donald Trump’s misplaced toupee, it’s something far worse. Indeed, this is one of the most toxic caterpillars in the U.S. While its silly name and fuzzy hairs make it seem cute, those hairs are capable of injecting an incredibly painful venom – one that apparently hurts as much as breaking a bone.
9. Tarantula hawk
Remember the bullet ants we talked about earlier? Well, according to Justin Schmidt, the tarantula hawk’s venom is the only other to attain the dubious achievement of being even more painful. When it’s time to reproduce, a female tarantula hawk will hunt down a tarantula and then paralyze it with her sting. She will then lay an egg on the immobile tarantula’s abdomen. Once the larva hatches, it will start feeding on the spider – avoiding the essential organs in order to keep the tarantula alive for as long as possible. Brutal.
8. Rainbow milkweed locust
Hailing from Madagascar, these rainbow-colored locusts can achieve a pretty impressive four inches in length. While they’re beautiful to look at, those vivid hues warn would-be predators that the locusts make a toxic meal. So if you’re feeling hungry, look elsewhere.
7. Zombie fly
Zombies aren’t restricted to movies and video games; they exist in the real world, too – in a sense. Females of the North American zombie fly species will inject their eggs into bees or wasps. Once the larvae hatch, they’ll feed on their host’s brain, muscles and nervous system. Eventually, the disoriented creature will die, and the larvae will emerge and pupate.
Remember the sarlacc pit monster in Return of the Jedi? Yep, something like that creature exists… albeit on a somewhat smaller scale. Some species of antlion have larvae that build sand pits and then lurk at the bottom until a passing insect loses its footing and slips inside. And at that point, the antlion’s massive jaws strike back.
5. Blister beetles
There are around 2,500 blister beetle species around the world. While these insects may look pretty innocuous, they are capable of emitting a nasty chemical that causes painful swellings and icky blisters on the skin. Not only that, but these bugs are incredibly toxic if eaten. Sometimes, they’ll end up in animal feed when crops are harvested – and it only takes five of them to kill a horse.
4. Giant water bug
If you weren’t already a nervous swimmer, then giant water bugs, also known as “toe-biters,” could give you a reason to stay dry. These insects, which can grow to over 4.75 inches, inhabit freshwater environments of the Americas, Australia and east Asia. They will lurk on the bottom of the river or lake, waiting for their prey – invertebrates, fish, water snakes and even turtles – to come within striking distance. When the time is right, they plunge their sharp rostrum into the prey, injecting a nasty saliva that basically digests their food before it’s sucked from their prey’s body.
3. Hissing cockroach
As if cockroaches weren’t creepy enough, this Madagascan species evolved the ability to hiss as well. And at three inches in length, these are some of the biggest cockroaches out there. Luckily, these critters don’t infest houses so much as they scuttle around on the forest floor, munching on fallen leaves and wood. Well, that’s something to be happy about.
2. Giant weta
New Zealand is home to some pretty incredible wildlife, but the giant weta may just take the prize as the freakiest. It can reach four inches in length – excluding legs and antennae – and tips the scales at over an ounce. While that might not sound like a lot, it’s heavier than a mouse. We’ll take the mouse over the weta any day.
1. Koppie foam grasshopper
As if consuming poisonous plants wasn’t a bad enough habit, the koppie foam grasshopper likes to store up the toxins inside its body, then squirt them out and smother itself with them when threatened. We might try that trick next time we want to escape a boring party.