Around 900,000 species of insects have been identified. That’s a staggering figure, but consider this: According to an estimate by a Smithsonian Institution researcher, there may be almost 30 million more insect species waiting to be discovered. Entomologists must be thrilled by that prospect. Non-entomologists might be thinking, “Good luck with that.” There’s no telling what bizarre insect species are yet to be found, but here are a few of the strange ones that have already been identified, from a caterpillar that supposedly looks like Donald Trump’s hair to enormous roaches that are trendy exotic pets.
10. Hummingbird Moth
Check out the above image from the U.S. Forest Service’s page on “Pollinator of the Month” (yes, there apparently really is such an honor.) The hummingbird moth hovers just like a hummingbird, and buzzes just like one, too. It whips out its long tongue near flowers and gets its fill of nectar, making it a prodigious pollinator (hence the award). There are four species of these moths in North America, and related species in Eurasia and Africa.
9. Madagascar Hissing Cockroach
When most people spot a roach, they reach for the bug spray, or smash it with their shoe. Now imagine keeping roaches as pets. Yes, the Madagascar hissing cockroach is growing in popularity as an exotic pet. These insects really do make hissing sounds, with different tones for mating and fighting (you don’t need to know the difference unless you’re a hissing cockroach). The roach’s giant size (up to 3 inches in length) has earned it roles in a number of TV shows and movies, including Men in Black and Starship Troopers.
8. Puss Moth Caterpillars
Two different caterpillars here, both with odd appearances, with one likened to a controversial GOP presidential candidate. The puss moth caterpillar native to Europe and North Africa (above left) boasts a human-like face, with spikes protruding from its abdomen. When threatened it can shoot formic acid at its attacker. The other caterpillar looks like Donald Trump … or his hair, anyway. Native to the Southern U.S., Mexico and Central America, the so-called Trump caterpillar (megalopyge opercularis) looks fluffy and harmless. But that fur on the outside actually contains poisonous spines. Those who touch the caterpillar may experience the same symptoms (pain, shortness of breath, etc.) as someone who has been stung by a bee … or a Democrat who has attended a Donald Trump rally.
7. Dead Leaf Butterfly
Countless members of the animal kingdom rely on camouflage to avoid predators. There may be no more aptly named such creature than the dead leaf butterfly indigenous to tropical Asia.
6. Red Velvet Ant
This colorful insect looks like a large ant, but is actually a wasp. That’s bad news for curious children and adults alike who pick the strange creature and quickly learn it has a painful sting; it doesn’t take much imagination to figure out how Dasymutilla occidentalis earned its nickname, “cowkiller.” They are most common in the Southeastern United States, but can be found as far north as Connecticut.
5. Australian Tiger Beetle
This tiny beetle doesn’t look like much, but it holds the unofficial world record as the fastest running insect in the world. In 1996, researchers in the Netherlands clocked Cicindela hudsoni at 5.6 mph over a short distance. Maybe not fast by Usain Bolt standards, but plenty fast for an insect. In fact, like many other tiger beetles, the Australian tiger beetle runs so fast that its vision cannot keep up; it literally must stop to regain its vision and reacquire its prey.
4. Asian Giant Hornet
The largest hornet in the world, this fearsome insect made headlines in 2013 when swarms killed several dozen people and injured more than 1,600 in one Chinese province. The hornet’s sting, which carries a neurotoxin known as mandaratoxin, can be deadly even for people who are not allergic to bee stings. If that sounds bad, consider this: Vespa mandarinia can also spray a venom that is potent enough to dissolve human flesh. Steer clear at all times.
3. ‘Snake’ Caterpillars
Mimicry is one of the best forms of protection for insects to avoid becoming some bird or lizard’s next meal. And faux eye markings are an especially common features, especially in vulnerable caterpillars. The Hemeroplanes triptolemus moth native to South and Central America and Africa does a very convincing job mimicking a snake, even using fake strikes to scare off predators. Does it work? The fact that the moth is still around suggests it does, but to find out just effective this mimicry is, researcher in the UK made fake worms using pastry, and painted the pastry with eyes to check the reaction of birds. Turns out birds were more unlikely to attack the pastry models that had snake eyes in the right position. Or maybe the birds just saw through the trick.
This insect has an almost prehistoric appearance, with a wicked-looking beak and what appears to be a scorpion-like stinger (it’s actually the male’s genitals). On an odd note, forensic scientists have learned that the presence of scorpionflies on a human cadaver indicates a very recent death.
1. Venezuelan Poodle Moth
Yes, another moth. Because of their status as big, juicy prey for far larger and faster animals, moths and butterflies have adopted a number of odd features and appearances. The Venezuelan poodle moth made a splash on the Internet in 2012. A Dr. Arthur Anker of Kyrgyzstan posted the above photo on Flickr in 2009, where it sat for three years before someone noticed the moth’s bizarre moth/poodle hybrid appearance and shared the photo online. That created the predictable reaction (Is it a hoax? Is it real?)