Hercules beetle: Meet the hug bug in the Colombian Amazon

By Steve Hide May 13, 2019
Hercules beetle, escarabajo hercules
The world’s largest beetle: an amazing hercules. Photo: Steve Hide

Crawling up my arm is the biggest beetle I’ve ever seen, but for some reason its stately progress and scratchy claws are vaguely reassuring. It doesn’t have any visible teeth or stingers. In fact, this gentle giant seem quite chilled perching on my shoulder as I stroll around Puerto Nariño, a village in the Colombian Amazon.

‘Que cucarron,’ – what a big bug – comments a man selling grilled fish as I walk by, quite proud of my new companion. Some local lads had given it to me after I stopped to watch them poking it with a stick down by the river port. A jungle guide hanging out at the hostel then gives me a clue to its identity: escarabajo hercules, the hercules beetle.

It turns out to be well named. The bug is a Latin American example of the rhinoceros family of scarab beetles, and one of the strongest creatures on the planet, and according to some studies able to lift 850 times its own weight, equivalent to a person hefting 60 tonnes.

Related: Diving into the Amazon

The well-armoured beetle uses its horns for defence and to rake through leaf litter on the forest floor where it feeds. Its calm disposition makes it a suitable – though rather unusual – household pet, and I later read that live specimens are worth up to USD$3,000 in Japan.

Not this one though. I guide it down my arm, then gently shake it off my wrist in some forest outside the village. It takes a while to let go, hugging me with its barbed legs, but then realises it’s better off in the forest.

So we go out separate ways. I’m heading back to the hostel for lunch. The hercules beetle lopes off into for a snack in the undergrowth of the Amazon. I hope it enjoyed our brief encounter as much as I did.