15 Remarkable Insects From Prehistoric Times

Leave a comment / / Updated on: 12th January 2024

prehistoric insects

As Earth’s terrestrial ecosystem began to take shape in the Middle Paleozoic, a new class of organisms emerged to rule the land and the skies. 

These were the insects, a group of arthropods that differed considerably from their water-dwelling ancestors. 

This group of organisms persists today and is considered one of Earth’s most successful animal groups, with more than 1,000,000 different species identified so far. 

Prehistoric insects were even more remarkable than their present-day relatives.

Although not as frequently preserved in rocks as their shelled and bony contemporaries, the fossil record has some fascinating prehistoric insect specimens. 

They ranged from giant flying insects (even bigger than some modern birds) like the Meganeura to enormous creepy crawlies like the Arthropleura

Prehistoric insects also varied in their feeding habits, habitat, and interactions with other animals within their ecosystem. 

In this article, we’ll list 15 of the most remarkable insects that lived in prehistoric times.

15. Bohemiatupus

Bohemiatupus line drawing of fore-and hindwing venation, isolated apical part drawn as preserved | Image via Research Gate
Name MeaningNamed after the Bohemia region of Europe
EraPaleozoic — Carboniferous 
ClassificationInsecta, Meganisoptera, & Meganeuridae
Wingspan20 inches (52 centimeters)
LocationCzech Republic (Europe)

Bohemiatupus was a large griffinfly that lived during the Late Carboniferous Period

It is known from only one fossil, which is an isolated forewing and hind wing discovered in Plzeň, Czech Republic. 

Bohemiatupus had a wingspan of about 20 inches (52 centimeters). 

It is named after the historic “Bohemia” region in Europe and its similarity to another prehistoric insect known as the Tupus. 

Although it was a large griffinfly, Bohemiatupus was smaller than other notable members of this family, such as Meganeuropsis and Meganeura.

14. Rhyniognatha

Rhyniognatha | Image via Dododex
Name Meaning“Named after Rhynie Chert”
EraMesozoic — Devonian
ClassificationArthropoda, Insecta, & Rhyniognatha
DietPossibly Omnivore

Tracing the evolutionary history of insects to the exact point where they first evolved has been a little difficult. 

However, scientists think Rhyniognatha, a prehistoric insect that lived in the Devonian, was one of the earliest insects ever to emerge. 

Rhyniognatha was alive about 400 million years ago and lived in present-day Europe.

It is commonly described as a flying insect, but this has not been confirmed since only the head part of the insect was found preserved. 

Rhyniognatha is named after the Rhynie Chert, the lower Devonian sedimentary rock that contained its fossils. 

While most experts consider the Rhyniognatha to be a flying insect, some think it may have been a myriapod, similar to modern-day centipedes and millipedes. 

13. Sinomeganeura

Sinomegneura line drawing of fossilized remains of its wings | Image via Research Gate
Name Meaning“Large vein from China”
EraPaleozoic — Carboniferous
ClassificationInsecta, Meganisoptera, & Meganeuridae
Wingspan5.9 inches (15 centimeters)

A relative of prehistoric giants like the Meganeura, the Sinomeganeura is a type of griffinfly. 

It lived in modern-day China back in the Carboniferous Period, and experts consider it to be one of the oldest insects from that part of the world.

Only one Sinomeganeura fossil (a fairly complete fore-wing) has been discovered so far. 

Although the lack of other body parts makes it difficult to determine what this insect looked like, experts think it must have resembled other griffinfly species. 

Based on the dimensions of the preserved wings, a total wingspan of about 5.9 inches (15 centimeters) has been estimated for the Sinomeganeura

This is small compared to the wingspan of prehistoric giants like the Meganeuropsis, which can be up to 28 inches (70 centimeters). 

12. Alavaraphidia

Alvaraphidia specimen | Fuente et al Wikipedia CC BY 3.0
Name Meaning“Named after the Álava amber deposits of Spain”
EraMesozoic — Cretaceous
ClassificationInsecta, Raphidioptera, & Mesoraphidiidae
Length0.22 inches (5.7 millimeters)
LocationSpain (Europe)

Alavaraphidia was a genus of snakefly that lived during the Early Cretaceous Period. 

It is known from a single specimen — an almost complete body fossil preserved in the famous Álava amber deposits of Spain. 

The name Alavaraphidia references the location where this fossil was found. 

While the wings of this insect were missing, the other body parts were preserved well enough to determine the size and possible color of this insect when it was alive. 

Alavaraphidia was a relatively small insect with a body length of about 5.7 millimeters (0.22 inches) and a long head that measured up to 1.2-millimeter-long head (0.047 inches). 

The rhomboidal head had a large compound eye, three large eye cells, and a notably long antennae. 

11. Cretophengodes

Art reconstruction of Cretophengodes | Dinosaurs20 via Dinopedia Fandom
Name MeaningN/A
EraMesozoic — Cretaceous
ClassificationArthropoda, Insecta, & Coleoptera
Length2.8 inches (72 millimeters)
LocationMyanmar (Asia)

Bioluminescent insects such as fireflies and glowworms have been around as far back as the Cretaceous Period

One example that demonstrates this is the Cretophengodes, a species of beetle found in 100-million-year-old Burmese Amber a few years ago. 

Cretophengodes is one of the oldest light-producing insects ever discovered. 

It was a small beetle with a body length of about 73 millimeters.

The insect’s abdomen had a bioluminescent organ which would have produced light when the insect was alive. 

Scientists think Cretophengodes is a transitional form between the soft-bodied bioluminescent beetles (phengodidae) and their hard-bodied relatives (Rhagophthalmidae). 

10. Gigatitan

Gigatitan | Apokryltaros via Wikipedia CC BY-SA 4.0
Name Meaning“Huge titan”
EraMesozoic — Triassic
ClassificationInsecta, Titanoptera, & Gigatitanidae
Wingspan16 inches (40 centimeters)
LocationKyrgyzstan (Asia)

Gigatitan is a prehistoric insect that lived in modern-day Kyrgyzstan during the Triassic Period. 

It belongs to an order of insects known as the titanopterans. 

A relative of modern-day crickets and grasshoppers, Gigatitan was significantly bigger than living relatives. 

It had a wingspan of up to 16 inches (40 centimeters), with large forewings and relatively small hind wings. 

The forelegs of this Gigatitan were quite enlarged and had spines for capturing prey similar to that of the praying mantis. 

The body volume of this insect compared to the size of its wings suggests that the Gigatitan was probably not capable of flight but was able to glide. 

Like modern crickets and grasshoppers, Gigatitan had prominent fluted regions on its wings, which were used to produce sounds.

9. Ororaphidia

Ororaphidia | Marianoalexisrumbo via Jurassic Park Wiki
Name Meaning“Mountain snakefly”
EraMesozoic — Middle Jurassic
ClassificationInsecta, Raphidioptera, & Mesoraphidiidae
Wingspan0.45 inches (11.4 millimeters)
Length0.47 inches (12 millimeters)
LocationChina (Asia)

Ororaphidia is a genus of snakefly (order Raphidioptera) that lived in present-day China back in the Jurassic Period

The name is derived from the Greek word “oros,” which means “mountain,” and also references its similarities to “Raphidia” (the most popular snakefly genus). 

The genus is known from a single well-preserved specimen of a female individual. 

Ororaphidia and the closely related Styporaphidia (also found in the same region) are the oldest snakeflies known from China. 

It is a relatively small insect with a body length of about 0.47 inches (12 millimeters) and a wing length of about 0.45 inches (11.4 millimeters). 

One of the most prominent features of the Ororaphidia was its large head, which was longer than its prothorax.

8. Mazothairos

Mazothairos | DiBgd via Wikipedia CC BY-SA 4.0
Name Meaning“Named after the Mazon Creek”
EraPaleozoic — Carboniferous
ClassificationInsecta, Palaeodictyoptera, & Homoiopteridae
Wingspan22 inches (56 centimeters)
LocationUnited States of America (North America)

Mazothairos was a large insect that lived in North America during the Carboniferous Period. 

With a wingspan of about 22 inches (56 centimeters), Mazothairos is one of the largest insects ever discovered.

It is commonly referred to as a six-winged insect because it has a pair of winglets in addition to its forewings and hindwings. 

Mazothairos belonged to the order Palaeodictyoptera. 

Members of this extinct family of insects are known for their large beak-like mouthparts, which they use to pierce through plant tissues and extract liquids.  

Another distinctive feature of this insect was its unusually long cerci. 

This sensory organ that grew out of the insect’s abdomen was almost twice as long as the rest of its body. 

7. Theiatitan

Theiatitan fossilized remains | Image via Research Gate
Name Meaning“Named after Theia, the Greek goddess of light”
EraPaleozoic — Carboniferous 
ClassificationArthropoda, Insecta, & Titanoptera
Wingspan12 inches (30 centimeters)
LocationFrance (Europe)

Many modern insects are known for their ability to communicate using their wings to produce sounds. 

Scientists have traced this behavior to a prehistoric insect that lived 310 million years ago. 

Named after Theia, the Greek goddess of light, Theiatitan belongs to a family of giant predatory insects that lived during the Triassic. 

It lived during the Carboniferous Period and is considered the oldest insect with a structure that supported specialized wing-based communication. 

In addition to producing sounds with its wings, Theiatitan could also produce flashes of light with its wings by opening and closing them rapidly against the light. 

Producing light reflections like this helped the insect to deter predators or attract prey. 

The exact size of the Theiatitan isn’t known, but it may have exceeded 12 inches on average.

6. Arthropleura

Arthropleura | Qohelet12 via Wikipedia CC BY-SA 4.0
Name Meaning“Jointed ribs”
EraPaleozoic — Late Carboniferous
ClassificationDiplopoda, Arthropleurida, & Arthropleuridae
Length2.5 meters (8.2 feet)
LocationNorth America and Europe

Arthropleura is a genus of giant millipede that lived about 340 million years ago. 

Although it is technically not an insect, Arthropleura deserves a spot on this list because it is the largest terrestrial arthropod ever discovered. 

It crawled the carboniferous forests of present-day North America and Europe. 

Arthropleura grew to a length of over 1.9 meters (6.3 feet) and was up to 55 centimeters (22 inches wide).

The weight of this arthropod has been estimated to be about 50 kilograms (110 pounds). 

It was a herbivore with limited defenses.

But the massive size of this arthropod meant it had few (if any) land predators that could prey on it. 

5. Oregramma 

Oregramma | Yang et al. via Wikipedia CC BY 2.0
Name MeaningUnknown
EraMesozoic- Jurassic
ClassificationInsecta, Neuroptera, & Kalligrammatidae
Wingspan3.9 inches (10 centimeters)
LocationChina (Asia)

Oregramma was a prehistoric insect that lived in modern-day China during the Cretaceous Period. 

Although it looked a lot like modern butterflies, Oregramma is a type of prehistoric lacewing from the family Kalligrammatidae. 

Lacewings are net-winged insects with over 6,000 species still living all over the world. 

Most lacewing species today are carnivorous, but their ancestors were likely herbivores. 

Oregramma, for instance, fed on pollen and plant juices, unlike their modern relatives. 

Although it shared a common ancestor with modern butterflies, Oregramma lived at least 40 million years before the first butterfly evolved. 

This means it is not a butter-fly ancestor despite their striking similarities. 

4. Burmapogon 

Burmapogon | David Grimaldi via Sci News
Name Meaning“Woolly-bearded”
EraMesozoic — Cretaceous
ClassificationInsecta, Diptera, & Asilidae
Length1 inch (25 millimeters)
LocationMyanmar (Asia)

Assassin flies are among the top insect predators in the world today. 

Evidence suggests that they ruled the world of insects since the Cretaceous Period.

One notable example that illustrates this is the Burmapogon, a prehistoric assassin fly that lived about 100 million years ago. 

Although modern assassin flies can grow to a length of over two inches, Burmapogon was smaller, with a body length of less than one inch. 

It had slender, piercing mouthparts effective for puncturing the armor-like skeleton of its prey and injecting them with digestive fluids. 

Although the Burmapogon resembled its living relatives, it had features missing in modern assassin flies, such as flattened antennae, spiny hind legs, and a v-shaped eye structure. 

3. Manipulator

Manipulator | Li and Huang via Wikipedia CC BY 4.0
Name Meaning“Likely references the insect’s specialized limbs for manipulating prey”
EraMesozoic — Cretaceous 
ClassificationArthropoda, Insecta, & Blattaria
Wingspan0.53–0.58 inches (13.4–14.7 millimeters)
Length0.37–0.43 inches (9.3–10.9 millimeters) 
LocationMyanmar (Asia)

Manipulator was a prehistoric cockroach that lived during the Late Cretaceous Period. 

Fossils of this insect were found in 100-million-year-old Burmese Amber from the Noije Bum region of Myanmar. 

Although it is considered an ancestor of modern cockroaches, Manipulator looked significantly different from modern relatives. 

It had a narrow body similar to that of modern crane flies, an elongated neck, a freely rotating head, and unusually long legs. 

The front limbs of this insect were similar to that of praying mantises. 

They were covered in short spines effective for grasping prey. 

These features suggest that the Manipulator was a predatory insect. 

Female individuals of this genus had slightly smaller bodies than the males, but their forewings were longer. 

2. Meganeura

Meganeura | Nel et al. via Wikipedia CC BY 4.0
Name Meaning“Large-nerved”
EraPaleozoic — Carboniferous
ClassificationInsecta, Meganisoptera, & Meganeuridae
Wingspan70 centimeters (28 inches)
LocationEurope and North America

Meganeura was a large flying insect similar in appearance and distantly related to modern-day dragonflies. 

It lived back in the Carboniferous Period and is considered one of the largest flying insects to have ever lived. 

Meganeura has a wingspan of about 65 to 75 centimeters (2.13–2.46 feet). 

It had a pair of wings similar to that of dragonflies but with prominent veins. 

The insect’s name, which translates as “large-nerved,” refers to this network of large veins in the insect’s wings. 

Expectedly, Meganeura was a predatory insect with a diet that consisted mainly of other insects. 

Meganeura’s hunting habits are similar to that of modern hawkers. 

This giant griffinfly also had large spines on its legs that helped with trapping or capturing prey while in flight. 

1. Meganeuropsis

Meganeuropsis | Image via Art of Carim Nahaboo
Name Meaning“Large vein”
EraPaleozoic — Permian
ClassificationInsecta,‭ Meganisoptera, & Meganeuridae
Wingspan28 inches ( 71 centimeters) 
Length17 inches (43 centimeters)
LocationNorth America

Meganeuropsis was a large griffinfly (a dragonfly-like prehistoric insect) that lived back in the Permian Period, about 290 million years ago. 

With a wingspan of up to 28 inches (2.5 feet) and a weight of over one pound, this insect was about the same size as a modern crow. 

Meganeuropsis is considered the largest insect to have ever lived and is also the largest flying invertebrate. 

The body length of this insect was about 17 inches from head to tail. 

Meganeuropsis ruled the skies of the Permian before other flying animals, such as pterosaurs and birds, and evolved.

It was a predator with powerful toothed mandibles, which allowed it to take on large and struggling prey. 


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