If you cringe at the sight of a spider or freak out when a bug lands on your shoulder, you may want to pass on a trip to Vietnam. The newest insect discovered there measures over a foot (32 cm) long and reaches 21 inches (53 cm) with its legs stretched out fully.
The giant bug is a new species of stick insect known as the Phryganistria heusii yentuensis and was found in a Vietnamese jungle by biologists from the Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences. According to the latest edition of the European Journal of Taxonomy, the 32 cm length makes it the second-largest insect in the world, looking up only to another stick insect, the Phobaeticus chani from Borneo at 36 cm.
Joachim Bresseel and Jérôme Constant also discovered two more new but smaller species of stick insects using a primitive technique known as beating. Basically, they beat on trees with a stick (a real one) until the insects fall out and land on a collection sheet. Stick insects are sexual dimorphics, meaning females and males look quite different, so part of their mission was to clear up classification mistakes made by biologists who thought they were different species. After the errors are corrected, there are still over 3,000 known species of stick insects worldwide.
If you think one foot-long bug is scary, don’t bother them when they’re mating. The male and female remain attached end-to-end for at least two days and some researchers have seen the sticks sticking together for up to 79 days! It’s believed the long hook-ups are to keep other males away – I guess you can’t fight off a stick with a stick.
With their obvious body camouflage, it’s no surprise stick insects live in trees and are herbivores. While not harmful to humans, they can cover a tree and defoliate it pretty quickly.
If you plan to visit Vietnam to observe these amazing insects, bring goggles. Even if they’re ugly, it’s better than a sharp stick bug in the eye.