Cryptozoology seems to be one of the current fads in TV these days. There is Monster Quest on the History Channel, Destination Truth on the SciFi (Syfy?) Channel, and now it looks like MTV is putting togther a similar show. I am somewhat of a sucker for these shows, but I prefer they have a greater dose of reality than science fiction. I saw River Monsters for the first time last weekend and developed an immediate man-crush on the host, Jeremy Wade. I’ve lways been fascinated by fish and other mysterious critters that lurk in lakes, ponds, rivers, streams, etc., even to the point of having strange dreams about them (I usually wake up just before it looks like I’m going to be eaten). I think this comes from growing up in North Florida and spending a lot time around lakes and springs, but I’m not sure. Maybe I was a minnow in a previous life.
Anyway, these shows have got me thinking about about cryptozoological arthropods. I couldn’t really think of any legendary spiders or insects, so I looked up the subject on the internet. A quick search yielded a list of cryptids provided by the British Columbia Scientific Cryptozoology Club. Out of a total of 724 cryptids, only three are what they call “insects.” These are as follows: 1. Giant Centipede (USA) 2. Giant Spider (Various) 3. Madascan Hawk Moth. Under “invertebrates” they also listed a Deep Sea Spider (S. Pac. Oc.), but that was the only other arthropod, so that makes a total of 4 out of 724 for a whopping 0.5%. This seems strange since a conservative estimate of arthropod species puts them at 80% of all known animal species. Surely there should be more stories of mythical insects and other exoskeletal beasties flaoting around out there. I’ll have to do some more searching.
One reason for the disparity between the number of insect/arthropod cryptids vs. other animals could be size. Since the laws of physics, at least as we currently understand them, constrain arthropods from becoming collosal, perhaps stories of huge bugs are just too unbelievable. I think the largest known terrestrial arthropod is the coconut crab. They can be disturbingly large, but even they have their limits. This is an interesting image of a cocount crab – supposedly taken at Andersen Air Force Base on the island of Guam (although Snopes.com reports that it was taken on Christmas Island).
These crabs are huge, no doubt, but my personal opinion is that this image has been faked. First of all, it seems improbable that a crab of that size would exist on an inhabited ilsand. They are considered a delicacy, and where they coexist with people, they usually end up on a dinner plate before they can huge. Even on the Island of Diego Garcia, where some of the largest coconut crabs in the world exist (B.I.O.T. law on D.G. makes it illegal to catch and eat them), you do not see coconut crabs of this size. A coworker of mine did a study on the crabs there, so I could probably back this up with data if I had too. Secondly, a crab this size would probably be too heavy to be supported by a standing trash can – in reality I think it would tip over from the weight of the crab.
But getting back to the insects…there may not be too many tales of giant bugs roaming the earth, but I’m guessing there is no shortage of extremely rare insects that have been seen only once or a maybe a few times, or sightings of insects that are presumed extinct. A particular species that comes to mind in Hawaii is the Green Sphinx of Kauai or Fabulous Green Sphinx, Tinostoma smaragditis (Lepidoptera: Sphingidae). Only about a dozen specimens have ever been found, all from the Kokee region of Kauai. The larvae have never been found, and its host plants have never been identified. I am particularly interested in this moth because there is a good chance sometime later this year or early 2010 I will be participating in some surveys for endangered Hawaiian picture wing flies in Kokee. You can bet I’ll also have my eyes peeled for the Green Sphinx.