What is the fastest flying insect?

Entomologist Richard Jones answers your wild question.

Monarch-butterfly_623_jeff_0-7f6213d

Monarch butterfly © jeff / iStock

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Strangely, little research has been carried out into the flight speed of insects.

In 1926, an entomologist reckoned on a deer botfly fleeting past at 370m/s. But this computes to 1,330km/h, which is faster than sound and obviously nonsense.

Anecdotal reports detail monarch butterflies keeping up with cars on the highway and dragonflies with light aircraft at 145km/h, but it is difficult to separate out wind speeds here.

Serious measurements have only been taken for a handful of commercially important species, tethered in wind tunnels – such as locusts at 33km/h and the tobacco hornworm hawkmoth at 36km/h.

The best guess so far at a fastest flier is a horsefly: its speed was estimated at 145km/h. If this record is ever beaten, it is likely to be by another fly species. 

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