Photo: Bernard Dupont/Public Domain.
It is easy to guess why this insect has been named so. Yes, its enormous size! It also has prominent horns that curve forward like the tusks of an elephant. This unusual structure is found only in the male, and is used in combat with other males making it look a bit like a tiny elephant! This tropical* beetle is a type of scarab beetle that belongs to the family Scarabaeidae and genus Megasoma.
The elephant beetle is a true giant among insects. It is the male that is the show stealer. The male can grow up to 13 cm. in length, seven centimetres in breadth and reach upto 35 gm. in weight. Only the male has the fantastic horns. The female is relatively smaller in size. The horns signify power and dominance among males and is used to fight each other, usually over a female or food. But, as intimidating and fierce as this insect looks, it is rather harmless. It is a herbivore and feeds on flowers, fruit and tree sap. Its armoured body is really black underneath a coat of fine microscopic hairs that give it its distinctive yellow-brown colour. It is mostly active at night.
This fascinating insect is found in the tropical forests of Central and South America and southern Mexico. It is threatened by increased felling of trees within its forest habitat and demand for its horns, which is used for making jewellery, and from the pet trade.
First appeared in: Sanctuary Asia, Vol. XXXVII, No. 3, March 2017.