Megasoma elephas: The remote-controlled beetle with an elephant’s trunk

I hate insects. If any are discovered in my flat, a coordinated emergency “trap and extract” campaign is put into action. Once, my mother and I spent at least an hour trying to evict a massive spider from the bathroom. This delicate operation was carried out largely unsuccessfully using a plastic beaker which we shoddily sellotaped to the end of a feather duster handle. I know spiders aren’t insects, by the way, but elephant beetles are, and if I was being accurate, I wouldn’t be able to mention my hilarious spider anecdote…

An elephant beetle on a tree

The elephant beetle’s a massive beetle which is known to scientists (and fans of the Latin language) as Megasoma elephas. They can be found terrifying insectophobes (technically entomophobes) in southern Texas, southern Mexico, across Central America, in the rainforests of South America and in parts of Australia. No danger of one appearing on my shower curtain then, thank goodness…

An elephant beetle on some towels

The “elephant” in its name isn’t just a reference to the beetle’s huge proportions. It’s also down to the male elephant beetle’s trunk-like horn which protrudes from the front of its body. Your average elephant beetle ranges from between 2.75 and 4.75 inches in length, with the males being two to three times bigger than the females.

Male and female elephant beetles

As well as being big and elephant-like, elephant beetles also have military applications. As if the thought of insects wasn’t bad enough, now I’m reading that they’ve been militarised! However, fortunately, they haven’t been given weaponry of any kind. The beetle’s military uses stem from the fact that they can be “flown” by remote control. What fresh horror is that!?

An elephant beetle next to a hand

In a project sponsored by the Pentagon, researchers at the University of California fitted several types of beetle, including an elephant beetle, with electrodes, a battery and a microcontroller. They then demonstrated how the beetles could be guided around using a joystick. The US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (Darpa) funded the research because they’re looking for nano air vehicles (NAVs) which could be used for surveillance operations.

Excuse me while I rush home and check that all my windows are closed…

Photo credits: ggallice, Ken_Mayer and Hectonichus

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About Dom Stapleton

Dom Stapleton

As well as being the world’s northernmost capital city, Reykjavik in Iceland is also an incredible place to visit.

We stayed in a hotel right in the middle of the city and spent most days walking around from there. The main thing we noticed (apart from the cold, of course) was that the people are so friendly. At home, trying to cross the road is a nightmare, but in Reykjavik, the cars are literally queuing up to let you across.

When my partner and I went, in January 2013, the sun only started rising at about 10 am, which was a strange experience. And it got dark at about 4 pm each day!

Dom works in our marketing team

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