Gotta zoom in. Okay. NOW: All hail the mighty featherwing beetle!

It’s one of the smallest insects on the planet. 

It’s as small as an amoeba.

Here’s how small it is. 

It would take . . . . 

More than 25 featherwing beetles standing on each other’s heads to reach the length of a ladybug, end-to-end

And more than 475 to reach the length of an unsharpened #2 pencil

About 1672 to reach the top of a goldendoodle’s head

And more than 4,088 to reach the top of an average woman’s head.* 

Though they be small, they be mighty. Usually, insect flight speed depends on its size. The bigger the bug, the faster the acceleration. Not so with the featherwings! They can fly with accelerations up to THREE TIMES their size. 

HOW? First, their little beetle underwings look more like feathers than like the membrane paddles of most beetle wings. This helps maintain lift while reducing drag. 

Next, they perform their own aerial version of a line dance. Here are the steps. 

Brakes are no problem for these miniature speed demons. They use their tough outer wings, called elytra, to put the stops on that ultra momentum. Now that’s some fancy flight-work!

*As adorable and marvelous as featherwing beetles are, they’re not even the smallest insects that we know of! They dwarf some Megaphragma wasps, which are half their size. 

Written by Roar and illustrated Chris Hedstrom.

Chris Hedstrom is the IPM Outreach Coordinator for the Oregon IPM Center at Oregon State University where he gets to combine his love for communication design with his desire to increase the adoption of sustainable pest management practices. He also enjoys coffee, beer, baseball, and complaining. Chris lives with his wife and two dogs at their home in Corvallis, OR.

Check our facts! The smallest insects evolve anucleate neurons. Megaphragma (Hymenoptera: Trichogrammatidae) about 200 um long.