Have you ever felt a surge of adrenaline when you stomped on a bug? Well, imagine how this guy is about to feel. Call the army, heck, call your mom, because the end is here. Giant bugs are now roaming the Earth. If these behemoths existed, would humanity become bug food? How could a bird save your life? And why would Grandma’s jewelry come in handy?
We don’t have to watch old monster movies to wonder what it would look like if giant insects ran the planet. Just step into the What If time machine and look at our past. Over 300 million years ago, these monsters were everywhere. The Meganeura, an early dragonfly relative, had a wingspan of over 0.6 m (2 ft). So why don’t we see these buzzing behemoths today?
Researchers think higher oxygen levels allowed insects to grow grotesquely large. During these prehistoric times, oxygen levels could reach almost 35%. Today, the atmosphere hovers around 21%. If the levels rose that high now, you would need masks and suits to avoid oxygen poisoning. But during these oxygen-rich times, insects competed with birds for resources.
The faster and more agile birds won out over the insects and learned to eat them. Eventually, insects began to shrink to the size we know today. But if they were suddenly huge, would you have to become nocturnal? With instantly elevated oxygen levels, bugs wouldn’t be the only ones getting a growth spurt.
Trees could grow up to 30 m (100 ft), and even your everyday ferns could be massive. And crawling around on the forest floor? Giant millipedes almost 2 m (6 ft) long. Yeah, these things would be everywhere eating decaying matter and plants. Nothing to worry about, right? Come on. This is What If. You know better than that.
Those dragonflies we saw earlier would be back and in a big way. Dragonflies today are deadly predators with great vision. They bite into their prey’s head and fly it back to a nice secluded spot where they devour everything. And now, humans would be on their menu. Your only chance to strike down this winged menace would be in their early developmental stage before their tough exoskeletons are fully formed.
Getting them first while they’re still learning to fly may seem like fighting dirty, but this world won’t cut you any slack. And you might have a meal for later. Just remember to aim for the eyes. But what if you needed something stronger to take down these creatures? The average insect’s exoskeleton consists of wax, protein strands and other elements layered together to protect them from their daily dangers.
Even their muscle attachments between their limbs made from a biopolymer material called chitin, are six times stronger than human tendons. Getting through an exoskeleton with conventional weapons wouldn’t be easy. But a diamond-tipped bullet or drill bit might be strong enough to pierce this outer shell. Maybe you could strap a diamond to a spear.
Scientists have even been working on creating hexagonal diamonds stronger than anything available now. With these lumbering threats around, they better speed up that process. Depleting oxygen levels stopped these bugs before, so could it stop them again? Maybe, over time. If humans keep burning fossil fuels and dumping carbon dioxide into the air, we might see these bugs shrink in size over decades. But that might not be fast enough.
So how would we fight back? Sometimes the best way to stop a predator is with another predator. You might want to breed large birds to protect you since they eat dragonflies and other insects. That age-old battle between insects and birds would start again. But leave the parakeet at home. You’d need a hawk or a trained eagle to fight these giant bugs. But even these predators wouldn’t be immune from attacks.
Maybe you wouldn’t have to worry about an oversized daddy long legs spider, but the Goliath birdeater, well, that’s a different story. When they were normal size, your pet bird would be in danger. Bird eater? I mean, it’s in the name. So if you got caught in this beefed-up version’s web, it could be fatal.
Normally, their venom wouldn’t necessarily kill you. But getting a giant-sized dose of venom in your blood could end your life before you even knew what happened. That’s grim. And even that fate is better than if you met a wasp in this world. Yeah, giant wasps might be able to paralyze you with one sting. Unfortunately, it’s not done with you yet.
No, this insect would take you back to their nest, where you would be eaten alive by their larvae. So how would you stop these attacks? Since wasps have poor vision at night, your best bet would be to strike after the Sun went down, destroying their nest in a sneak attack. Humans would have to adapt to the dark to deal with the new threats to our existence. But don’t destroy the larvae just yet.
This payback is going to be sweet. Well, maybe savory. When the world panicked at the sight of murder hornets, some people in Japan were laughing as they pan-fried their grubs. These giant larvae could be preserved in jars or even steamed with rice. A wasp shish kabob could be tasty. I mean, if they don’t skewer you first.
This world would create a never-ending battle between humans and insects. And victory would go to whoever’s hungriest. Even with these giant bugs roaming the Earth, we’d still have the brains and brawn to fight back. But what if these oxygen levels had the same effect on humans? What if you grew to be 5 m (16 ft) tall?
- “Why Were Prehistoric Insects Huge?”. Alexander Kaiser. 2007. sciencedaily.com.
- “Why Were Prehistoric Insects So Big?”. 2018. earthsky.org.
- “Prehistoric Insects And Giant Bugs”. Danika Painter, Michael Hagelberg. 2022. askabiologist.asu.edu.
- “Numbers Of Insects (Species And Individuals) | Smithsonian Institution”. 2022. si.edu.
- “Mega Bugs! Discover Giant Insects That Were The Largest Ever”. Michelle Stacy. 2021. a-z-animals.com.