Have you ever wondered what the fastest moving insects in the world are?
There are so many different kinds of bugs on this planet, and many are extraordinary in terms of their speed – so what are the quickest ones?
All insects can run, but if you lined them all up, which would win a race?
In this article we’ll answer that very question and cover:
- How to understand the speed of insects in relation to their body size
- The top ten fastest running insects in the world
- The speeds that some of these insects can reach, both in absolute terms and in relation to their body size
- and more!
How To Measure Speed
Measuring the speed of insects is a very challenging business, because insects are so comparatively small.
In order to make it a fair test, it is often useful to look at how fast the insect travels in relation to its own body size.
After all, if you compare how fast a flea can cover a mile with how fast an elephant can cover a mile, you aren’t going to get a good idea of how quickly either animal moves – only how long their legs are.
Therefore, we’re going to look at the insects in terms of their speed to the ratio of their body size.
This should give a clearer picture of just how fast some of the insects are, and how even animals that we think of as quick (such as cheetahs) are massively outpaced by bugs.
Insect One: Paratarsotomus Macropalpis
Speed: 332 body lengths per second
This is a species of mite that is native to South California, and it is an extremely quick moving one.
Although tiny, it can run at around 332 body lengths per second.
Compare that to a human’s ability to run at around 6 body lengths per second at the very most.
Paratarsotomus macropalpis can run just a little slower than a jet, and that is quite extraordinary for a tiny mite.
Of course, small creatures do experience less air resistance than big ones, but even so, this mite is extremely speedy.
The discovery of this mite caused great excitement in the scientific community, because it raised major questions about the way movement works, and the limitations that living beings are restricted by.
To further put the speed of these little mites into perspective, a human would need to be able to run at 1300 miles per hour in order to match them.
The fastest human on record, Usain Bolt, managed to reach top speeds of 27 miles per hour – which gives you some indication of just how much faster humans would need to be to compete with these mites.
Even a cheetah, often thought of as the fastest animals, can only reach top speeds of around 75 miles per hour.
It would need to be running more than ten times as fast to outstrip the mite
Insect Two: Australian Tiger Beetle (Cicindela Hudonsi)
Speed: 6.8 km per hour
Thought to be the second fastest insect in the world, the Australian Tiger Beetle (Cicidela Hudonsi) can run at 6.8 km per hour.
When you think about how tiny these insects are, that’s an extraordinary pace to be able to achieve.
Indeed, the insect runs so fast that when it reaches its top speeds, it is unable to process visual information quickly enough, and it has to slow down in order to see where it is going.
That is one fast insect, and it’s a great way for it to escape from any predators or other potential danger that might threaten it.
Mostly, however, this beetle uses it for hunting, and it does an amazing job of it.
It does have to stop mid-hunt to relocate its prey because it just can’t process the visual information that quickly.
Despite that, it has such an advantage over the things that it hunts, it doesn’t seem to matter!
Insect Three: Australian Tiger Beetle (Cicindela Eburneola)
Speed: 171 body lengths per second
Beaten by the other tiger beetle by 1.4 miles per hour, the Cicindela Eburneola is also extremely fast, and can run down its prey with almost as much ease as its cousin.
These beetles are again native to Australia, and they move immensely quickly.
Neither species can fly, but they don’t need to with that sort of speed. They can overtake most of their prey on land just by putting their six legs to use.
However, it is worth noting that the Cicindela Eburneola is considerably smaller than the Cicindela Hudsoni, which means that it is quicker in terms of body size.
The Eburneola can travel at 171 body lengths per second, while the Hudonsi can only travel at 120 body lengths per second.
If you compare speed with body size, therefore, the Cicindela Eburneola wins the race hands down (although it doesn’t come close to beating the Paratarsotomus macropalpis’s top speed!).
Insect Four: The Flea
Speed: 2 meters per second
Fleas certainly aren’t going to win a running contest, but if we’re looking at pure movement speed, they have a significant advantage in their jump.
It’s thought that they can cover almost two meters in a single second, meaning you’d hardly see them move.
This is partly why fleas are such successful creatures; they can easily leap from one animal to another, or spring onto an animal’s back from some distance away.
It’s not a pleasant thought, but fleas can move exceptionally fast!
Insect Five: Cockroach
Speed: over five km per hour
As if cockroaches needed any further advantages beyond their apparent indestructible nature, these insects held the record for fastest runners until the studies done on the tiger beetles and mites.
They can move extremely quickly.
The Dictyoptera cockroach genus is thought to be the fastest, and can travel at speeds of over five km per hour.
This is probably not what you want to hear if you’re dealing with a cockroach infestation, but be aware that these fast moving insects are hard to catch and trap, and often hard to even see.
They will flee if they hear you coming, and you’re unlikely to be able to catch one even if you see it.
It might also amaze you to learn that while most quick insects make use of all six of their legs, cockroaches run on their two hindmost legs – bipedal running, just like humans do.
They tilt their bodies up out of the way and zip around on their back pair of legs at amazing speed.
Insect Six: Green Tiger Beetle
Speed: 120 body lengths per second
Like its Australian relative, the Green Tiger Beetle (found in the United Kingdom) is also a very quick mover, and is the fastest in the UK.
It is not as quick as the Australian Tiger Beetle, but it still reaches good speeds.
These beetles can fly, but they generally use their speed to hunt, and although their speed hasn’t been measured, they are certainly quick.
They hunt caterpillars, spiders, and ants, so they need to be fast in order to catch up with their prey and grab it before it escapes.
They have strong jaws and beautiful, jewel-like backs, and they are reasonably common in their native habitat.
You might even see one if you go to the UK, particularly if you go walking in the woodlands.
Keep an eye out for one zipping around after something to eat!
Insect Seven: Gerridaes
Speed: 100 body lengths per second
Although not a land-running insect, these little creatures can move extremely quickly on the surface of the water, and if you ever see one skittering across a pond or lake surface, you might be impressed by how swiftly they move.
Their long legs sit on the surface of the water and are waxy and hairy enough to trap air, making a sort of floating “cushion” that holds them above the water.
With minimal friction, they can whizz forward super fast.
There is absolutely no doubt that insects are amazing, and if you have ever had the pleasure of witnessing one of these incredible bugs zip around on the surface as they hunt and dodge away from predators, you will probably be amazed by their speed and control.
Insect Eight: Springtails
Speed: 4.6 feet per second
An insect that you might be familiar with if you have been unfortunate enough to suffer from a springtail infestation, these little creatures move extremely quickly, and can launch themselves at a rate of over 4.6 feet per second.
Although this is only their initial velocity, not the overall speed of their jump.
Springtails can jump over 100 times their body length, but it is of course a leap, not a run.
Springtails usually only employ this mode of transport when they need to get away from something, but you are likely to have seen them do it if you have come across them in your home.
Insect Nine: Silverfish
Another insect you may have encountered in your home, silverfish are extremely quick little critters.
You have probably observed them diving into cracks and crevices when they realize they have been detected in your home, and they are extremely speedy.
However, these creatures can only run fast when they are on a flat surface.
They can run vertically as well, but they are far slower and if you’re trying to catch one, chasing it up a wall is a good trick to entrap it.
Silverfish are not venomous or poisonous, and they have no other significant means of defense, so they need to be quick in order to outrun potential predators and disappear from sight when they feel under threat.
Insect Ten: Saharan Silver Ant
Speed: 108 times their body length
Running in the desert doesn’t sound like fun, but the Saharan silver ant can do it, and it’s the fastest kind of ant there is.
It needs to move quickly because it has to deal with the midday sun in the Sahara, and being exposed for long periods of time could easily kill it.
The speed allows it to return to its burrow with scavenged food very quickly, potentially saving it from cooking in the sun.
If these ants were the size of people, they would be able to run at around 200 meters per second.
They travel at 108 times their body length per second, rivaling some of the other speedy insects.
As you will have seen, there are some extremely quick insects out there.
They use their speed to hunt, to hide, and to shelter themselves from extreme weather conditions like the sun, and they are very effective in doing so.
No matter where in the world you live, you’re likely to have some quick-moving insects around you, and it’s worth taking the time to see which are the quickest and how they compare to you in terms of their speed.
Alright, that’s it for this article, here’s a few hand selected articles that you might also find interesting reads:
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