Wild Things with Dominic Monaghan

Giant white Goliath beetle, Cameroon

The Goliath beetle (Goliathus goliatus quadrimaculatus) is one of the largest insects on earth and is native to Africa.

Giant white Goliath beetle, Cameroon

The Goliath beetle (Goliathus goliatus quadrimaculatus) is one of the largest insects on earth and is native to Africa. Most species are tropical, although there is one subtropical beetle in the Southeast of Africa, and they've reached their greatest diversity in the continent's equatorial rainforests.

The female Goliath beetle is somewhat dark brown to silky white, whereas the males are normally brown/black/white or brown/white. They can carry heavy and huge weights upon themselves. The elytra, the top pair of wings, cover and protect their secondary pair of wings (the only ones they actually use to fly). On the ends of their legs the beetles have sharp claws called tarsi which they used for climbing. The males have a Y-shaped horn on their heads, which they use as a pry bar in battles. Females have a wedge shaped head that they use for burrowing, but no pry bar.

Goliath larvae are soil dwelling, even though most other centoniinae larvae prefer decaying plant material. Female beetles lay their eggs underground and after the larva hatch they feed on protein-rich food. Under optimal conditions, the larvae reach maximum weight within four months. In the biggest species of Goliath, the larva can be up to 130mm in length and weigh 100g. The larvae finish growing around the end of the rainy season. At the end of the wet season, the larvae burrow underground and encapsulate themselves in a thin-walled, oval-shaped cell made of sandy soil, where they transform into adult form over the course of the dry season.

Once the larvae has built the shell, it will remain motionless for a few weeks, shrink in size and become wrinkled (pre-pupal stage). After this, the larvae will shed its skin and enter the pupal stage before it becomes an adult. Pupation takes several months, during which time the beetle's tissues are reorganised into the form of the adult bug. While still inside the earthen cell, the adult beetle will then extend its wings and fold them correctly. The adult beetle will remain in the shell until the wet season, when the rains soak down into the cell and soften it.

Meanwhile, the beetle's exoskeleton will have hardened during hibernation. When the rain soaks into the cell, it wakes the beetle up from its hibernation and it climbs out of the cell. After the adult comes out of the cell, it will start looking for a mate right away and the cycle starts all over again. The larval stage will begin in the wet months, and then it will hibernate inside the pupal cell for the dry season.

Adult beetles eat foods rich in sugar like sap and ripe fruit, and in captivity they can live up to a year after emerging from their cells. However, their lifespan in the wild is much shorter because of predators and weather conditions.