Have you, like me, ever been relaxing in the garden of a late summer evening with a whiskey and Vimto, thoughtfully stroking your chin, momentarily wondering where your beard’s gone before remembering shaving it off this morning, and deeply contemplating exactly which insect is the very fastest in the world? Can you compare a winged insect’s flight speed with that of a grounded running insect? Should the two disciplines remain separate, like judo and boxing? Or should there be one final, glorious face-off to determine the ultimate fastest insect in the world?

But how would you race an airborne insect against a grounded insect? Individual time trials would be more accurate but not nearly as much fun. Would it be possible to get them to move at their fastest possible speeds in a straight line over a pre-determined distance at the same time? How would you get them to wear numbered bibs?

Representing the grounded insects and relying heavily on its legs, the Green Tiger Beetle, which doesn’t appear to have too many rivals according to many years of other people’s research and a couple of my quick Google searches. There are some large tropical cockroaches of the family Dictyoptera which are pretty quick as well, but if they are not even going to give them proper names then they don’t count.

Green Tiger Beetle – whoever discovered it certainly knew how to name an insect. I like to think there are all sorts of Tiger Beetles which are colour-coded according to their particular skills. Green clearly represents speed. I imagine Beige Tiger Beetles have, over millions of years, developed a superior interior designing ability.

A be-winged candidate short-list would not be complete without the Dragonfly, which can travel at over 50mph or so.

But the ‘Death’s Head’ Hawkmoth has  been scientifically clocked at over 53mph and carries considerably more weight; it also has what appears to be a human skull on its back; has also starred alongside Jodie Foster and Anthony Hopkins in a famous horror movie, which means it could easily keep pace with the Dragonfly in a race, beat it up afterwards and then steal its girlfriend and take her to much better parties. However, in an insectoid drag race or short-distance sprint, the slightness and instant speed of the Dragonfly would likely triumph every time, creating for me a dilemma which cannot be solved by science, philosophy, or random guessing alone.

So while the insects of flight squabble amongst themselves for the right to represent their discipline, it is clear that the leg-inspired Tiger Beetle, of the Green corps, remains unchallenged for the title of fastest insect in the world. 

Thus, my late summer evenings sat pondering in the garden, stroking my chin, momentarily wondering where my beard came from and then remembering I haven’t shaved for a few weeks, still flow with whiskey (though not Vimto as my wife has banned all concentrates from the house since I began racing insects in the living room), and are now cluttered with contemplations on which animal and/or insect can move backwards the fastest. My money’s on bears.

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