Giant Meganeuropsis Permiana (Meganeura) dragonfly, the largest prehistoric insect: What we know

Today we’re talking about something that many people despise – insects. We’ll examine the giant Meganeuropsis Permiana dragonfly, the largest prehistoric insect discovered. 

If you think insects are nasty today, you wouldn’t have wanted to be around when these guys were roaming the planet. 

Largest insect ever

If you feel insects are predators today, this dragonfly would have scared you. The Meganeuripsis is the largest insect ever to have been discovered. 

While Pterosaurs were notorious for ruling the skies, they were not the first flying predators. If you look up textbooks, you’ll see mentions of some giant flying creatures. They even lived before the dinosaurs. 

Despite being more primitive than typical dragonflies, they were still scary. They resembled more primitive Meganisopterans or ‘griffin flies.’ 

You would have had to be alive 247 million years ago to experience them, as that is when they went extinct. They had an impressive run considering they were discovered as far back as 317 million years ago. 

A life-size reconstruction (72 cm wingspan) of Meganeuropsis permiana

Don’t worry. The picture above is only a reconstruction.

Size of prehistoric insects & animals
Meganeuropsis Permianathe wingspan of 28 inches & head-to-tail measurement of 17 inches
Monster Millipedenine feet
Supersized Scorpioneight foot
Anomalocaris Canadensis3-6 foot

Meganisoptera

Meganisoptera is a family of insects we won’t see anymore as they’re extinct. However, there are other reasons why we won’t run into this predatory, large species of insects anymore. We’ll cover the reasons later on. 

The largest of the family was the Meganeuropsis. The Meganeuriosus Permian existed drug the Early Permian period. Frank Carpenter described their huge remains in 1939. An incomplete wing fossil was found in Elmo, Kansas. It was the piece that the genus was originally used to describe from. Go and visit the Museum of Comparative Zoology at Harvard University. You can find the fossil and the one used to describe M.americana.

Calculations were done based on the fossils that were found. Meganeuropsis was a big one. With a wingspan of 29.5 inches, there was no way you’d miss it flying in your direction. At the same time, it had a body 18.5 inches long. 

It’s several times bigger than anything you would find today.

meganeuropsis_lucas-lima_4x3

How big were bugs in prehistoric times?

What’s important to know is that oxygen levels were far higher at those times than they are today. Higher oxygen levels meant that it was possible for much larger insects to fly. 

Oxygen levels today are roughly 21%, whereas they peaked around 35% in the Carboniferous period. The influx of the massive oxygen levels allowed invertebrates to get to sizes we’d never see them become today. 

Ancient bugs truly roamed the earth, with dragonflies being one of the creatures. For a long time, it was a mystery as to how predatory dragonflies could become the size of modern seagulls.

It’s generally accepted that a surplus of oxygen was what led to them becoming so big. However, they also had to grow so large, or they would likely suffer from oxygen poisoning. 

What’s worse is that dragonflies weren’t the only animals to reach these crazy sizes. Can you imagine coming home and seeing cockroaches that were even bigger than the ones we have today?

Bigger sizes meant less oxygen absorbed.

meganeuropsis-eating-roach_lucas-lima_3x4

Perhaps it was out of necessity that these insects grew so big. Animals and humans can get poisoned when they’re getting too much oxygen. With larvae taking in much of their oxygen through their skin, it would have been a race to grow big as fast as possible. 

A larger size would have meant a relatively smaller surface area compared to their overall size. It would have meant the danger of high oxygen levels would be lessened for bigger animals. Without the ability to regulate oxygen intake at the early stages of life, growing big was simply a defense mechanism. 

Growing bigger meant a decrease in surface area relative to the overall volume. At some point, the oxygen levels started falling again. However, the size of the insects did not immediately follow. They were likely able to stay alive for a period of time. However, the lower oxygen levels meant they struggled to get the needed energy. As a result, they would become sluggish and eventually fare worse than smaller, more efficient predators.

Dragonfly fossils

The fossils were originally discovered in 1880 by Stephanian Coal Measures of Commentry. The name “Meganeura” means large-nerved, exactly what they were. The insect’s wings had massive networks of veins spread all across them. 

Derbyshire is another place where such a fossil was found. Surprisingly, it happened as late as 1979 in the town of Bolsover.

Lack of predators

The higher oxygen contents meant that other animals were also big. However, there was a lack of predators hunting these Meganeurids. Bechly pointed out that a lack of predators was another likely explanation for their size, especially aerial vertebrates. 

How long have dragonflies been around?

Cockroaches are known for having survived ages. While most of us would have probably wanted these creatures to be forever gone centuries before we came to be, it’s just not the case. However, dragonflies are another type of insect that has been around for a long time. 

Dragonflies are believed to have come around about 350 million years ago. It was long before the earliest dinosaurs. Dragonflies even predate cockroaches. 

What’s crazier is that this group of flying animals is older than most other flying creatures we know today. There are a few exceptions, including:

silverfish
  • Silverfish
  • Diplura
  • Springtails
  • Protura

However, those are all very primitive species. There’s a reason we’re so fascinated by dragonflies. Many of us are fascinated with the ability to hover at a fixed point in the air. These insects can fly like a helicopter in any direction you may wish. In addition, they have an impeccable vision.

Evolution of dragonflies

Despite their changes in size, these creatures have not changed much from their ancestors. With the ability to have a 360-degree field of vision through their 30,000 individual eyes called ommatidia, they’re an impressive species. It gives them a much better defense against any predators wanting to take them on.

Large or frightening prehistoric insects

The Meganeuropsis Permiana was not the only large prehistoric insect out there. There were many other cases that you would not want to wake up next to in your bed. 

If kitchen ants or fruit flies make you uneasy, these creatures will make you jump. 

Animals that went extinct
Glyptodon10 feet
Short-faced bear10 feet when standing
Mammoth13 feet at the shoulder
Megalodon33.5 feet

Manipulator Modificaputis

Manipulator Modificaputis was a prehistoric predatory cockroach. Writers of horror novels could not make this stuff up. Cockroaches are disgusting as they are right now, but the Manipulator Modificaputis was worse. 

Fortunately, we’re past the Cenomanian period, which is when they used to live. 

Monster Millipede

Did you know that the Monster Millipede was as long as 8.6 feet? With it came to its impressive weight of 110 pounds. They seemed to have legs forever. It was the largest land invertebrate known and lived in the Carboniferous period along with the Meganeuropsis Permianas.

Being arthropods, they would have many s similarities to scorpions and lobsters. 

Imagine one of these animals coming across your kitchen floor. 

Kaekelopterus rhenaniae

It was a massive scorpion swimming around, pinching other animals. In fact, the scorpion grew as big as 8 feet. The sea scorpion would have been frightening to encounter on a morning swim. It’s believed to have preferred swamps and river estuaries. 

Dragonfly interesting facts

We already know that these creatures are prehistoric, but many other interesting dragonfly facts exist.

Did you know that they start their life swimming rather than flying? Yes, they start out as underwater eggs. They hatch and spend a long time underwater as they grow into their adult sizes. 

They’re also vastly touted as being one of the best hunters out there, often compared to sharks and lions in ability. 

We love having these animals around as they’re feeding on mosquitos. Keep chewing away, little guys! Eating as many as 100 mosquitoes per day that’s a lot of mosquito bites you’re not getting. 

Which of these animals would you be most reluctant to meet?

  • Meganeuropsis Permiana
  • Monster Millipede
  • Supersized Scorpion
  • Anomalocaris Canadensis

FAQ

Do dragonflies bite?

It’s good to know that you probably won’t be bitten by a dragonfly. However, it doesn’t mean they won’t bite if they have to. Biting is a form of self-defense for the dragonfly, so make sure our little friends don’t feel threatened. 

How big can dragonflies get?

With wingspans typically ranging up to 5 inches, these modern fliers can be rather big. However, it depends on the type. It’s just good we’re no longer exposed to their prehistoric predecessors.

What’s the largest dragonfly alive today?

The Megaloprepus. They’re the largest damselfly alive today with a wingspan of up to 7.5 inches. They can be found in moist forests in South America and Central America. They’re the world’s biggest dragonfly today, while the Meganeuropsis permiana was the largest dragonfly and insect ever to live. These winged insects are still impressive. Megaloprepus

Did dragonflies use to live before dinosaurs?

Yes, dragonflies used to live before dinosaurs ever did. They were also massive. We know they existed during the Paleozoic times, which started 541 million years ago and ended 252 years ago. How do we know this? 

These insects were found in sedimentary rock layers underneath dinosaurs. It means they would have been around even before the dinosaurs were. It’s generally accepted that dinosaurs started appearing around 231 million years ago. However, that was not the time when the largest dinosaurs started 199 million years ago. On the other hand, there’s evidence that dragonflies have existed for 350 million years as they first emerged during the Carboniferous Period. With that said, it’s impressive that they’ve survived and are still around today, although much smaller.