NEWS
07/24/2014 03:45 EDT | Updated 09/23/2014 05:59 EDT

World's biggest aquatic insect claimed by China

An insect with huge horn-like jaws and a wingspan similar to a sparrow's has been reported by Chinese media as a record-breaking find.

"With its wingspan measured as 21 centimetres, the insect won the title of the largest aquatic insect in the world," reported Ecns.cn, the official English-language service of the state-run China News Service.

The website posted photos of the insect, which was found in the mountains near Chengdu, in Sichuan province. One shows the insect's lacy, patterned dragonfly-like wings stretched far wider than the palm of the person holding it, and in another, a modest-looking chicken egg sits nearby for scale.

The website says the photos were taken on July 17 and that the insect belongs to the taxonomic group or order Megaloptera (a name that means large, folded wings). The group includes large insects called dobsonflies or fishflies, along with smaller alderflies.

While the insect is claimed as the largest "aquatic" insect, dobsonflies and alderflies only live in the water as a larvae or juvenile – adults live on land. On the other hand, they spend only a few days as adults. While the larvae are ferocious underwater predators, the adults either don't eat or sip only nectar and fruit juice.

It also is nowhere near the biggest insect in the world in any dimension. According to the University of Florida Book of Insect Records, the record for biggest wingspan — 30 centimetres —  is held by the white witch moth; and several giant beetles and grasshopper-like creatures called giant wetas  — all of which are huge and have far stockier builds than the new dobsonfly — are the heaviest.

However, an insect quite similar, and not that much smaller than the new Chinese insect, lives right here in Canada. The dobsonfly Corydalus connutus has a wing span of 14 centimetres and males have "sickle-shaped and tusk-like mandibles" that are about four centimetres long, according to entomologists Rob Cannings and Geoff Scudder of the Royal B.C. Museum.

"Such males have been seen to 'duel' with each other and to prod the female during courtship," the two wrote in a scientific article about the Megaloptera species in Canada.

Overall, there are 17 species of dobsonflies and alderflies in Canada.

MORE:cbcNews