Humans can have extreme reactions when they come across insects – from delight at the sight of a Monarch butterfly to disgust at a scurrying cockroach. But did you know that many insects are too small to be seen by the human eye? Not much is known about these tiny creatures due to their minuscule size and difficulty in studying them. In fact, many of them are even too small to photograph. Here, we countdown some of the world’s smallest insects!
10. Midget Moths
Though butterflies are often associated with daylight hours, moths are typically seen at night. It can be tricky to distinguish between them. However, the antennae can be used to tell the difference – butterfly antennae have a ball-shaped tip, while moth antennae do not. The smallest moths are part of the Nepticulidae family and are known as pygmy or midget moths. Enteucha acetosae, the midget moth, has a wingspan of 1 inch, while the average wingspan of a moth is 9 inches. As larvae, they feed on leaves and create unique patterns with their munching.
9. Scarlet Dwarf Dragonfly
The scarlet dwarf dragonfly is an incredibly small species of the Odanata family. This tiny insect has a wingspan that measures less than half of 1 inch long! Its body length is similarly diminutive at about .66 inches (17mm). Its native home is in Japan, China, and Southeast Asia, but it can also be found in Australia on occasion. Despite its size, this little bug still has many similarities to its larger relatives. It even shares similarities with the Meganeura, one of the largest insects ever known. This critter had a 28-inch wingspan and lived 300 million years ago during the Triassic period. Just like Meganeura, the scarlet dwarf butterfly feeds on other insects in order to survive.
8. Western Pygmy Blue Butterfly
The western pygmy blue butterfly is one of the smallest members of the Lepidopterous insect order, with a wingspan as small as half an inch. Its bronze and dark blue pattern at the bases of both wings make it easily recognizable. This species can be found throughout North America, Hawaii, and parts of the Middle East.
Butterflies have been around for over 200 million years. Fossil evidence suggests that their prehistoric ancestors fluttered among dinosaurs before pollen-rich flowers even existed on Earth. Despite major events such as mass extinctions and ice ages, butterflies still managed to survive and now comprise over 180,000 species in their family.
7. Microtityus Minimus Scorpion
Scorpions are typically thought of as some of the most dangerous insects due to their ability to protect themselves against much larger predators such as spiders. This defensive ability has been developed over more than 430 million years. Scorpions have a venomous sting, robust pincers, and an armored exoskeleton. Although the venom of scorpions can be toxic, only 25 species produce a toxin strong enough to be fatal to humans.
Researchers exploring the Dominican Republic’s Greater Antillean Island of Hispaniola uncovered the Microtityus minimus scorpion in 2014. This species is believed to be the smallest scorpion in the world, measuring only .43 inches long (11 millimeters) when fully grown. Its miniature size makes its claws and stinger appear less intimidating and somewhat endearing. But don’t be fooled; this teeny scorpion is a feisty creature!
6. Bolbe Pygmaea Mantis
Mantises have a long-standing relationship with humans, from being considered supernatural in Ancient Greek and Egyptian cultures to inspiring Chinese poems and two martial arts. They are also popular pets for many people. The order of Mantodea consists of over two thousand species, some of which can be as large as 3.5 inches when standing upright. However, the smallest mantis species, Bolbe pygmaea, is only 1 centimeter (0.39 inch) in length! It is native to Australia.
5. Eranotaenia Iowii Mosquito
Mosquitoes are infamous for their ability to leave us with itchy, painful bites. They can drink twice their body weight in blood while using a special technique to fly in and out of the area without being noticed. This makes them exceptionally hard to detect, which is dangerous in parts of the world where they are known to carry dangerous viruses and illnesses.
Introducing the minutest mosquito on the planet: The Uranotaenia lowii mosquito, also known as the light-footed Uranotaenia, is a mere .09 inches (2.5 millimeters) long. Fortunately for us, it does not feed on human blood. Rather, they rely on their ability to pick up on croaks and other sounds to find frogs and other amphibians to bite. These tiny creatures are native to the Southern United States, ranging from Texas to Florida and even North Carolina.
4. Patu Digua Spider
The patu digua spider is one of the smallest spiders in the world and can be found around American homes. It’s native to Colombia and can only be seen with a microscope as it grows to less than 1/3rd of a millimeter (.01 inch) – smaller even than the head of a pin! However, some believe that there are even smaller arachnids lurking somewhere. For example, the female Anapistula caeculas from West Africa are approximately 0.03 inches long, which would likely make their male counterparts even tinier! Generally speaking, male spiders tend to be much smaller than females due to sexual dimorphism (where two sexes display different physical characteristics).
3. Euryplatea Nanaknihali Fly
Measuring 0.01 inches (0.5mm) or less, Euryplatea nanaknihali is the littlest fly species known to humankind. These minuscule flies lay their eggs inside the heads of ants, and once the larvae hatch, they feed on the ant’s insides, eventually leading to its death. While this may seem gruesome, it’s not unique for flies in the Phoridae family, who also use this reproductive method.
2. Scydosella Musawasensis
Scydosella Musawasensis is a species of beetle that is one of the smallest insects in the world. This beetle belongs to the Ptiliidae family, and it is the only one in the genus Scydosella. It has an elongated body and an oval shape, and it is believed that the smallest individual identified was .001 inches long, with an average size of 0.01 inch. This insect is not parasitic. Instead, it feeds on the spores of Basidiomycota fungi. It was found initially in Nicaragua, but it has since been located in Colombia as well.
1. Fairyfly Wasp
Alexander Henry Haliday first identified the fairyfly wasp in 1833. The fairyfly wasp is the smallest insect in the world. This species belongs to the Hymenoptera order, which includes ants, sawflies, bees, and wasps. This species is found in many different habitats around the globe, from humid rainforests to arid deserts.
The smallest type of fairyfly wasp is the Dicopomorpha echmepterygis, which measures just 0.0005 inches (.139 millimeters) in length. If you thought a paramecium was small, this parasitic wasp will blow your mind! These incredibly tiny bugs have no wings or eyes and just two tiny antennae. When they are in the larval stage, they eat the eggs of other insects from the inside out. If you want to find this insect, you’ll have to travel to Costa Rica, Hawaii, or Trinidad.
Summary of the 10 Smallest Insects in the World
|Rank||Insect Name||Size in Inches|
|1||Fairyfly wasp (Dicopomorpha echmepterygis)||0.0005|
|3||Euryplatea Nanaknihali Fly||0.01|
|4||Patu Digua Spider||0.012|
|5||Eranotaenia Iowii Mosquito||0.09|
|6||Bolbe Pygmaea Mantis||0.39|
|7||Microtityus Minimus Scorpion||0.43|
|8||Western Pygmy Blue Butterfly (Brephidium exilis)||0.5|
|9||Scarlet Dwarf Dragonfly (Nannophya pygmaea)||0.66|
|10||Midget Moth (Enteucha acetosae)||1|
More from A-Z Animals
The Featured Image
Thank you for reading! Have some feedback for us? Contact the AZ Animals editorial team.