There are some big insects in Southeast Asia. The “Pharnacia kirby” stick insect of the rain forests of Borneo is the world's longest insect. According to the Guinness Book of Records, one specimen had a body length of 12.9 inches (20 inches including legs). A 10-inch grasshopper capable of leaping 15 feet lives along the Thailand-Malaysia border.

Accounts of early explorers to Borneo described "ant marches," in which "glistening rivers of warrior ants, eight miles long, hundreds of yard wide and a foot deep...consumed everything in their path, then mysteriously" disappeared. On the their journey through Borneo the Blair brothers found the swarms of highly venomous brown sweat bees to be their biggest problem. They particularly like armpits and "were solely after the salt in our sweat," they said, "and settles softly all over us, like fur coats of venom." Once Loren was stung so badly in the back of the neck he went blind for almost an hour." [Source: "Ring of Fire" by Lawrence and Lorne Blair, Bantam Books, New York]

The two-faced fulgorid is an insect with fake eyes, antenna and beak planted on its wing tips and tail. The bug seems to hop backwards and if attacked, it loses a bit of wing not its life.

Insects have been around longer than any other forms of terrestrial life. They have existed for over 320 million years, evolving from millipedes which in turn evolved for crustaceans in the sea. Cockroaches and termites and dragon flies are the oldest incests.Insects are the most widely dispersed and the most numerous of an animals. They can found in the oceans, on polar ice caps and flying over the Himalayas and living in steaming hot volcanic springs. According to one calculation there are about 1,000, 000, 000,000,000,000,000 (one million trillion) insects in the earth, more than a billion for every human being.

Invasive Species of Insect from Asia

brown marmorated stink bug

Pests that originated in Japan that have caused problems around the world include: 1) tiger mosquito, thought to have entered the United States in a shipment of used tires; 2) tsugakasa aburamushi, a hemlock-killing aphid thought to have entered the United States in a shipment of hemlock wood from Japan; and 3) brown marmorated stink bugs, dime-size shield-shaped creatures that give off an unpleasant smell when squashed or irritated. The latter first arrived in the United States in Allentown, Pennsylvania in 2001 and are now found in 29 states.

Invaders from China causing trouble include the Chinese longhorn beetles that probably hitched a ride in the timber of shipping pallets or containers is threatening North American forests. The insects first appeared in Brooklyn and from there spread to Central Park in Manhattan then Chicago and then around the United States. The U.S. government has spent over $175 million trying to get rid of tree-killing Asian long-horned beetle.

Describing the presence of the Asia-originating emerald ash borer at work in the U.S., Steve Nash wrote in the Washington Post, “A little beyond earshot of the Capitol, in the leafy suburbs of Maryland and Virginia, the chewing sounds may soon be getting loud. As spring arrives, a metallic green Asian beetle that feasts on ash trees may appear in the landscape as it did briefly last fall. The emerald ash borer probably first arrived at a Great Lakes port in wooden packing material on Korean or Chinese freighters a couple of years ago; since then, it has destroyed 6 million trees in Michigan and has also shown up in Ohio and Canada. A few weeks ago, ash trees near Wolf Trap in Virginia that might have been infested were cut down in an effort to halt any spread of the pest in this area. With luck, it'll work. But if it doesn't, there's a real possibility the borer could do to Eastern ash trees what an Asian blight did to chestnuts in the first half of the last century -- wipe them out. [Source: Steve Nash, Washington Post, April 14, 2004]

World's Longest Insect Found in Borneo

large stick insect

Raphael G. Satter of AP wrote: 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. 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. [Source: Raphael G. Satter, Ap, October 16, 2008]

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.

Interesting Insects Found in Malaysia

orchid mantis

In the Gombak Valley there is a species a praying mantis that looks just like a pink orchid. When the insect sits on a flower it is virtually indistinguishable from the blooms around it. When it rests on a leaf it looks as if the leaf has sprouted an orchid. The insect catches prey by pretending to be a bloom, and snatching nectar-seeking insects that come to feed with its pink spiked forelegs. Flanges on the insects legs look just like petals. They will even gently rock back and fort to imitate a blossom blowing in a breeze. [Source: Edward S. Ross, National Geographic, September 1965, ┟];

The caterpillar of the "stauropus" moth looks like a decayed leaf. It is often seen hanging upside down from a leaf. When provoked it rears up on its front legs and sprays a powerful acid on intruders. The "Euthalia" caterpillar has a stripe down its backs and about two dozen long hairy spins. The camouflage, which looks like the veins on a leaf, make the insect blend in the with the foliage behind it.┟

The assassin bug entraps insects with sticky white secretion on it its front legs. When the prey is caught the assassin bug sticks it beak into the victim and sucks out its body fluids. The tiger beetle is a species of insect so distasteful to other insects it can walk around virtually unmolested. The false tiger beetle is a tasty katydids which avoids attacks by taking on the appearance of it undesirable look-alike.┟

The plant hopper nymph feeds on plant juices with a tubelike mouth. After obtaining nutrients from the sap it ejects the waxlike residue in such a way that it creates a tail that look laser-like pulses. Glands arranged like a spaghetti press form the tail by pushing out filaments composed of microscopic hollow tubes. The tail may deter predators or simple break way as a false tail when the nymph is attacked.

Mantids in Asia

Mantis Hymenopus coronatus

Mantids (praying mantises) have a special place in Asia. Taryn L. Salinas wrote on the National Geographic website: Although in many parts of Asia mantids are often considered pets and are frequently handled lovingly, they have also been used as fighting animals, battling to the death in bamboo cages. In fact, several styles of kung fu, known as Tang Lang in Chinese, were inspired by the insect's merciless and predatory maneuvers. Practitioners of the praying mantis style imitate the tactics that the creature uses to trap and maim its prey.

The Chinese mantid was accidentally introduced into the United States in 1896 and now is widespread. In China mantids have entertained people for at least a thousand years. Some Asians still wager on caged mantids that fight to the death.

Most of the roughly 1,800 known species of mantids spend their time sitting and waiting for prey. What looks like prayer position is actually a ready-pounce position. Mantids are harmless to people. [Source: Mark W. Moffett, National Geographic, January 2006]

Mantids are masters of camouflage. Some of the most spectacular species are Asian varieties that effective, ingenious and, often times, stunningly beautiful disguises that allow prey to come with grasping range. The yellowish Burmese flower mantid blends in with the yellow stamens of certain flowers. Greenish juveniles blend in with leaves.

Mark W. Moffett wrote in National Geographic. “Mantids can also mimic leaves, grass, twigs, stones, even ants. The body of the dead-leaf mantid perfectly imitates withered foliage When a predator disturbs this dead-leaf mantid on the Malaysian forest floor, the insect rears up in a frightening threat display, rattling its wings. Spine-studded forelimbs folded beneath its head create the illusion of a giant gape.

Rhinoceros and Stag Beetles

Chinese stag beetle

Stag beetles are large beetles with fearsome-looking mandibles that are nearly as long as the beetle's body and resemble the antlers of a stag. Stag beetles and rhinoceros beetles mop up tree sap. Only male rhinoceros beetles have horns. Male stag beetles have longer mandibles than females.

Stag beetles possess mandibles that are nearly as long as the beetle's body and resemble the antlers of a stag. Varying in lengths from 0.6 centimeters to 8.5 centimeters, they are smooth, black or reddish brown. Males are larger than females and have enlarged mandibles that are used in fights over females. There are about 1,000 species of stag and rhinoceros beetles in the world. Generally found in the forests and mountains around rotted logs and oak trees, the Japanese species are between 5 centimeters and 8 centimeters in length and hibernate in the winter.

In the wild, stag beetles are active mostly at night. Despite their large size they, like all beetles, can fly. Eggs are laid in decaying tree stumps or roots. Larvae live in rotten logs or are buried in the soil, feeding on rotten wood. Once they are large enough they pupate. Adults either do not feed on drink fluids such as nectar or sap, which they can smell.

Kevin Short wrote in the Daily Yomiuri, “Male rhinoceros beetles have huge horns and solid, heavily-armored tanklike bodies. They use their brushy mouthparts to mop up the sap that issues from the trunks of oak trees, and are thus very common in coppice woodlands. The larvae develop underground, in soft, humid substrate such as found in rotting logs or fermenting compost. [Source: Kevin Short, Daily Yomiuri, July 8, 2010]

“Male rhinoceros beetles are highly territorial. They stake out a good feeding spot and wait for females to arrive. All other males they challenge as opponents and competitors. A fight consists of two males trying to bulldoze each other off of the tree trunk. If one combatant gets his long front horn underneath his opponent, he uses it to flip him off into space.


cloud of fireflies

Thick clouds of fireflies are found along some rivers in Southeast Asia.Some of the most spectacular firefly displays in the world are in the mangrove swamps of Southeast Asia, particularly along some creeks in Malaysia and Borneo. The “Pteroptyx”, one of at least 130 species of firefly in the region, is particularly interesting. In the State of Johore tens of thousands of male from this species gather at a mangrove tree about 75 feet from the house of Ahmad bin Khamis and flash on and off in unison. [Source: Paul Zahl, National Geographic, July 1971, ╺]

First a group on a branch starts blinking on and off together. The other fireflies on the tree pick up on their cue, and after a while the whole tree is a mass of yellow lights blinking in perfect sync. The fireflies seem to be synchronized by some sort of internal clock. Their pulse rate varies slightly with temperature.

David Attenborough wrote: “As the sun sinks and dusk falls, scattered flashes begin to blink in the mangrove trees. Arcs of staccato light, like the plumes of tiny fireworks, curve through the gloom as single beetles fly from one branch to another. Minute by minute their numbers increase. Branches silhouetted against the sky become laced with tiny points of flashing light...Slowly the confusion of flashes begins to resolve itself into an order as the many thousands of insects synchronize their rhythms. Eventually the whole tree, as a single unit, begins to pulse with light...Those trees that illuminated often stand isolated above the rippling reflections with their pulsating lights outshining the stars.”

Thick clouds of fireflies gather along the rivers in Borneo In the lowland areas you can find bioluminescent beetle larvae called starworm that produce a greenish light as they crawl among the fallen leaves at night

Leeches and Spiders

Leeches are found mostly found in damp forests in Asia. One photographer working in rain forests of Sabah in the wet season said he picked of 20 leeches a day. Particularly nasty are the infamous thread leeches of Borneo which cling to reeds in fresh water streams and suck the blood the unwary drinkers. They are particularly fond of gathering on the inside of their hosts lungs, mouth, esophagus, stomach and intestines. [Source: "Ring of Fire" by Lawrence and Lorne Blair, Bantam Books, New York]

”Orsima formica”, a species of Southeast Asian spider, has a head that head that looks like the thorax of a beetle and abdomen that looks the head, complete with antenna and jaws. One scientist called a "spectacular spider" that "looks like a little iridescent beetle built backwards." The spiders is able t escape from predators that anticipate the spider will flee in one direction when it actually flees in the opposite direction.

Butterflies and Moths

Raja Brooke Birdwing

The Raja Brooke Birdwing is one of the world’s largest, rarest and most colorful butterflies. Native to the rain forest Borneo, it brilliantly colored and has a wingspan of 6 to 12 inches. It was first caught by Alfred Russell Wallace who named after a fried in Sarawak. One reason its so rarely seen is that it spends most of its time in the upper canopy.

Wallace wrote: "The beauty and brilliancy of this insect are indescribable, and none but a naturalist can understand the intense excitement I felt when I at length captured heart began to beat violently, the blood rushed to my head, and I felt much more like fainting than I have done with immediate apprehension of death. I had a headache the rest of the day." Today a prepared pair of birdwing butterflies sell for up to $2,500 on the black market.

The world's biggest moth is the Atlas Moth — a Southeast Asian species with a wingspan up to 10 inches. Another species of moth from Southeast Asia has a sharp proboscis that pierces the skin of host and sucks its blood.

Atlas Moth, the World’s Biggest Moth

Atlas moths (Attacus atlas) are large saturniid moths found in the tropical and subtropical forests of Southeast Asia, and common across the Malay archipelago. They are considered the largest moths in the world in terms of total wing surface area — upwards of 400 square centimeters, or 62 square inches. Their wingspans are also amongst the largest, reaching over 25 cm (10 inches). Females are appreciably larger and heavier. The Queen Alexandra's Birdwing and Goliath Birdwing are the two largest butterflies in the world. The wingspan of the female Queen Alexandra's Birdwing can reach 31 cm (12.2 inches). Both of these are found in Paua New Guinea. [Source: Wikipedia]

Atlas moths are said to be named after either the Titan of Greek mythology, or their map-like wing patterns. In Hong Kong the Cantonese name translates as "snake's head moth", referring to apical extension of the forewing, which bears a passing resemblance to a snake's head. The largest lepidopteran in terms of wingspan is thought to be the White Witch from Latin America. A record specimen of Attacus atlas from Java measured 262 millimeters, while Thysania are claimed to be about 270 to 280 millimeters (11 inches). Based on some spread specimens and angle of wing, actual measurements of around 289 mm have been estimated.

In India, Atlas moths are cultivated for their silk in a non-commercial capacity; unlike that produced by the related Silkworm moth (Bombyx mori), Atlas moth silk is secreted as broken strands. This brown, wool-like silk is thought to have greater durability and is known as fagara. Atlas moth cocoons have been employed as purses in Taiwan.

Atlas moths are predominantly tawny to maroon in colour with roughly triangular, diaphanous "eyes" on both forewing and hindwing, bordered in black. The purpose of these dramatic, gossamer portals is not clear, but they are thought to play a role in predator avoidance. Their bodies are hairy and disproportionately small compared to their wings. Patterns and colouration vary among the many described subspecies. Male Atlas moths are distinguished from females by their smaller size, more tapered wings, and larger, bushier antennae.

Neither sex possess fully formed mouthparts and therefore do not feed; throughout their one to two week adult life they survive entirely on larval fat reserves that they build up while they are caterpillars. Females are sexually passive, releasing powerful pheromones which males detect and home in on with the help of chemoreceptors located on their large feathery antennae. Males may thus be attracted from several kilometres downwind. Atlas moths are unsteady fliers, and the female does not stray far from the location of her discarded chrysalis: she seeks a perch where the air currents will best carry her pheromones.

Once mated, the female lays a number of spherical eggs 2.5 mm in diameter on the undersides of leaves. Dusty-green caterpillars hatch after about two weeks and feed voraciously on the foliage of certain citrus and other evergreen trees.[8] The caterpillars are adorned with fleshy spines along their backs which are covered in a waxy white substance. After reaching a length of about 115 millimetres (4.5 in), the caterpillars pupate within papery cocoon interwoven into desiccated leaves. The adult moths emerge after about four weeks. References

Weaver Ants and Ants in Asia

weaver ant nest in Thailand

Asian jumping ants, known for their ability to make great startling leaps, seize prey between their long mandibles and then bring their stinger underneath their body bodies, through, their legs, to inject their victims with lethal venom. [Source: Mark Moffett, National Geographic, August 1986 [┦]

Tree ants in Southeast Asia construct nests by sewing leaves together. This is don by three groups of ants: two draw the leaves together while one sews it. No adult insect can produce silk so they bring larvae and squeeze out their silk.

Weaver ants, found in the tropics of Asia, Africa and Australia, are one of the world's most fascinating ant species. They claim territories of 20 or more trees, the largest of any ant species, and live in treetop nests woven from leaves. To get to hard to reach places weaver ants form chains, with one ant grasping on to the waist another and so on. For food, they raise aphids, as if they were cows, and consume their honeydew sweet feces as they were milk or cheese.

Weaver ants bind leaves together to produce nests. To make a nest scores of ants work together to pull leaves together with their feet attached to one end and the mandibles attached to another and then bind them together A single colony may consist of dozens of nest that the ants will aggressively defend. Weaver ants also work together to kill and carry prey. One scientist observed a group of 50 weaver ants carrying a hermit crab up a tree.

Marauder Ants

Marauder ants are found throughout southeast Asia, southern China, Sri Lanka, southwestern India, Taiwan, the Philippines and most of the Islands of Indonesia. They are famous for organizing themselves into military-style units, up to four meters wide, that are attack prey such as worms, centipedes, cockroaches, spiders, scorpions, and frogs, all of which are many times larger than themselves. The marauding ants overpower their prey by sheer numbers. [National Geographic, December 1988].

Like most ant species marauders have different group members which perform different tasks. Most of the hunting is done by fierce-looking majors that are about three quarters of an inch in length. The queens are even larger and they can out when outweigh by smallest caste, the tenth of an inch minors, a thousand times. Minors are the foot soldiers of the marauder ant army.

Describing how they subdue prey thousands of times larger than themselves, biologist Mark Moffet wrote in National Geographic: "After being restrained by the minor workers, large prey are then bitten repeatedly by medias and majors, and their limbs are torn off...Without killing them, the ants render [their victims] helpless, to be ripped asunder within the ant's nest." The ants also work together to carry seeds and lizard eggs back to the nest.

Scientist that work around marauder ants usually make sure to tuck their pant legs into their socks. The ants can't sting but the majors can bite hard enough to draw blood and you can imagine what it is like when hundreds of them bite at one time. The scientist work for a couple of minutes until the ants crawl up their bodies and reach their arms and necks. Then they dash away, scrape the ants off, and return again.

Marauder Ants Trails

Marauder ants build trail on which food is carried to their the nest. Some of these trails can reach a lengths of 300 feet (the equivalent of 30 miles for human). Sometimes a thousand ants a minute will pass a single spot. Obstacles are removed by bulldozer-like majors with a tiny minors riding on their head, giving the larger ants directions. If an obstacle is too large to move it is either chewed by the ants or a tunnel is built underneath it. Off of the trunk trail the ants form raiding parties six to twelve feet across. The swarms of eat forage for plant matter (about half of their diet) and gobble up any worm or centipede that gets in their way.┦

Mark Moffet told the Los Angeles Times: “Marauder ants in Asia clash in broad fronts of tens of thousands and mow each other down. Creatures that feed on marauder ants include flies, large insects, birds and other ants. Battles between armies of different species of ant are not uncommon with major marauder ants killing their victims with "crushing blows" and minors tearing their opponents apart a piece at a time. The dead are buried by the side of the trail.┦

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons

Text Sources: National Geographic, Natural History magazine, Smithsonian magazine, Wikipedia, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, The Guardian, Top Secret Animal Attack Files website, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, The Economist, BBC, and various books and other publications.

Last updated May 2014

This site contains copyrighted material the use of which has not always been authorized by the copyright owner. Such material is made available in an effort to advance understanding of country or topic discussed in the article. This constitutes 'fair use' of any such copyrighted material as provided for in section 107 of the US Copyright Law. In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, the material on this site is distributed without profit. If you wish to use copyrighted material from this site for purposes of your own that go beyond 'fair use', you must obtain permission from the copyright owner. If you are the copyright owner and would like this content removed from, please contact me.