So I moved into my new place last week and all my stuff is… well… not here yet. But it’s cool, it’s on the way. So with no furniture, no cooking paraphernalia, and no dishes, you know what that means: takeout pizza for dinner! (Thank you Papa Johns.) The delivery person got here super fast which was awesome. And it got me wondering.
What is the fastest insect? This is a pretty complicated question.
While some credit Usain
Bolt as the fastest human (sprinting), others say it is Justin Gatlin (sprinting with a tailwind). Long distance has Dennis Kimetto being the fastest; running the Berlin marathon in just over two hours. Just like with humans, it depends on how you measure it. Then throw in the fact that insects don’t just run, they fly. So here’s a couple impressive ones for you to ponder.
A number of researchers have investigated this quandary over the years. An Australian species of tiger beetle (Cicindela hudsoni) moved at 2.5 meters per second. Mr. Bolt manages a top speed of 12.27 meters per second. The tiger beetle is so fast it can’t actually see anything until it slows down. I have no idea how they figured that out though.
But insects are quite small, so if you factor in body size, you get body lengths per second (bl/s). Usain Bolt at just under two meters tall, he travels about 6 bl/s. So another species of tiger beetle (C. eburneola) travel 171 bl/s. Not impressive enough for you? K, how about a mite that can travel 322 bl/s? But we will leave that out since we are talking insects here.
Let’s switch to flight. The lowly horsefly (Hybomitra hinei) has been clocked at 145 kilometers per hour. But I can’t tell how they figured that out, so let’s trash that one. This Smithsonian reference claims that “dragonflies” and “hawk moths” are the fastest at 56 and 53 km/h respectively. But no references (come on Smithsonian!) so ditch those two. That’s when I found this paper from an Australian researcher. It measured the airspeed of the desert locust Schistocerca gregaria at 33 km/h. Not too shabby! When looking at flight speed as a function of groundspeed, the black cutworm (Agrotis ipsilon) can manage up to 113 km/h but like Justin Gatlin, that was with a nice little tailwind helping.
What does this all really mean though?
- Insects are just so freaking impressive.
- Speed can be calculated in a number of ways so you can potentially have lots of “fastest” insects.
- Forget Amazon drones, my pizza would get here faster if it could somehow be delivered by insects.
And to be perfectly fair, we can’t reliably measure ALL the insects out there because there are millions of species and many more millions (?) that are still not described. Unbelievable! Yet entomologically awesome all the same. Know someone who needs a little extra speed? Share the entomological awesomeness! Time for some of that rum.