Insects are the most numerous creatures on Earth, and they would probably be equally numerous in a fantasy setting. Why then do we not know of more fantasy insects (which are not simply giant versions of terrestrial ones)? I challenge people to think of more fantasy insects: just mundane ones, nothing giant or monstrous, which would add character and atmosphere to a setting.

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True fact:

Air temperature in degrees Fahrenheit can be calculated by adding 40 to the number of calls a tree cricket makes in 13 seconds.

Sun Cricket

These small, bright yellow crickets sing to each other. Their mate song consists of short high and low chirps and long, high chirps. If you count the number of long chirps one cricket sings to the other and subtract 5, you will be able to tell what hour it is. These crickets mate for life, however, and if one dies, the other cricket will only sing it's lonely song, a collection of short and long low chirps.

True fact:

Never squash a Yellowjacket wasp near the nest. A dying Yellowjacket releases an alarm pheromone that alerts its comrades. In less than 15 seconds, Yellowjackets within a 15-foot radius will rally to the victim's aid.

Phalanx Ants:

Never stop for lunch near a Phalanx Ant hill. If one of their scout ants finds more food than it can carry, it sends out a scent blast to alter other scouts to get the haul, and sends out another blast all the way back to the ant hill every time it can no longer smell the last one. The resulting scent trail leads the majority of the ant hill to your food.

This invasion can be solved if you can find their soldier ants, by looking for the slightly larger ants with two horns. If you can kill the soldier ant, it releases a retreat scent blast and the Phalanx ants will return to the ant hill untill the scents disapate. There is typically one soldier ant in five hundred.

I had two based on the same idea.

The original was a large butterfly (wing about the size of a fully spread hand) that left a glowing glitter (like smacking a lightning bug with a tennis racket and the glow just sort of spreads for a second) as they fly. Only come out at night.

I had the large version specifically attracted to a useful magic item that the characters were using.

I made a smaller version that was attracted to any active magical device at any time of day. Not to big of a deal during the day, but at night they leave a nice light trail around whoever is carrying magic items.


These are a sidebranch of the Annelida animals (Earthworms) that gather together in the earth and form huge balls. When it rains, the orbs slowly move toward the surface and begin to roll, sometimes travelling over twenty miles in a night.

True Fact:

In Southeast Asia there are moths that feed on blood and eye fluids from livestock and occasionally humans.

Assassin bugs, sometimes known as conenoses or kissing bugs are killer insects that feed on blood or other insects. The kissing bug label comes from the insect's ability to steal a blood meal by piercing the lips, eyelids or ears of a sleeping human victim.

Blood Angel Butterfly

The blood angle butterfly is a shimmering white butterfly with light red patterns on it's wings that look much like feathers. They are parasites that feed off the blood of mammals including humaniods. They land on a sleeping or resting host and peirce the skin with thier strong, sharp tounge and drink thier blood. As they drink, their wings become redder as they feed. Their saliva contains a light narcotic agent to help the host sleep longer and often leaves the host feeling relaxed for a short time after feeding. Because of the narcotic, many cultures feel it is good luck to feel a blood angle butterfly and frown on those who kill them.

The Long Fingered Thief

as a tribute to 'Alien'

While not much bigger as a fist, has legs much longer and is very bendy and agile. With legs disturbingly reminding of long deformed fingers, it has the annoying tendency to jump upon a character (high shock value), grab whatever (s)he is eating and run away with it. Remember the 'facehugger' from Aliens? Imagine something similarly disgusting but not out to kill (or implant an egg). Only a nuisance, but sometimes fey-folk trains one to steal valuables, so better watch out.

An interesting article on this topic « Reply #10 on: July 22, 2003, 10:00:14 PM »


The article is on GameGrene

Weird World: Bugs

by Jabberwocky

April 24, 2003 10:17 PM

I once had a good friend who used to tease me about my role-playing habit. It was in the late eighties, and many people were still convinced the devil himself created D&D. My friend and I had many things in common; we were both into football, AC/DC, and blondes, but he simply refused to enter my world of magic. Finally he had enough of me and told me, quite frankly, that there was no need for fantasy when the world was weird enough. He had a good point.

Combine the fascinating world we live in with role-playing bliss, and you have an adventure worthy of legend. From the ancient dungeons of Turkey, to the mysterious voodoo in New Orleans, this world is saturated with gaming ideas. After all, even fantasy games are based on ancient beliefs: essentially, the reality of our forefathers. Let's start by picking up the Earth and see what crawls out.

Spiders, beetles, and worms. They are found in cave drawings, literature and media all over the planet. Is it the tough exoskeleton and amazing strength, or maybe the advanced sensory abilities and clever instincts? Whatever the reason, mankind will always express a child-like curiosity for these little creatures. In a fantasy world, these chitin-clad monsters can have many brilliant roles.

Spell Components and Alchemy

Spells and alchemy have always been a great part of gaming. I used to love going through the magic book, envisioning incredible flashes of magical energy woven in to potent charms and enchantments. While most games have great ideas for magic, they often lack interesting ingredients. This is where bugs can play a significant role.

Insects can do almost anything. They can glow, jump, poison, pinch, stink, sing, meta-morph, spin silk, fly, swim and make paper. With so many natural abilities, I am confident to say there is a perfect bug for every magic idea. The fun part comes when wizards are forced to keep live bugs in their packs or alchemists hire characters to harvest army ants. Getting to know these remarkable insects and their abilities stoke the embers of creativity. Here are a few bugs that made me think "outside the book":

The dandy jumper spider taps on spider webs pretending to be a courting male. It continuously tries different greetings to lure the female down. Once it finds a successful pattern, it is intelligent enough to memorize the pattern for use in the future whenever it finds a similar type of web.

When threatened, the bloody-nosed beetle breaks thin membranes in its mouth and spits up its own blood. Chemicals in the blood can make predators very sick.

The bird dung spider looks like a piece of bird crap in the day. But at night it releases a chemical that attract moths for dinner.

Parasitic wasps lay eggs on live insects. When the eggs hatch they borrow into the insect, eating it alive.

Each of these bugs could easily be a component for a spell, or ingredient for a potion. Try to find similarities between the purpose of the spell and the characteristics of the insect. A viceroy butterfly mimics the appearance of the monarch butterfly, but only the monarch butterfly is poisonous. This bug demonstrated a mimic ability, which could be used in an illusion spell. While bugs and magic complement one another, each of these bugs could also be the heart of an epic adventure.

Bug Adventures

There are many ways to make a bug adventure. The first step is to find a really cool bug. The Vampire Moth from Asia, for example, has a dagger-like proboscis (snout) that it uses to suck blood (even human). With that, three adventure ideas come to mind: A moth transmitted disease where the group has to find the antidote, before livestock and people start to die. A political adventure where the group has to find out what the enemy's secret weapon is. As it turns out, it is a foreign moth with no natural enemies in the area, capable of driving out inhabitants with their great numbers. And finally, another adventure could involve a faction or cult that wants the rare moth enough to kill for it, leading to a Sherlock Holmes style mystery.

Often, the easiest way to include a bug in an adventure is to start small. Changing the bag of gold reward into a jade scarab is a start. You can carry this further by making the people the group is trying to help, bug worshippers. Instead of saving a princess, the group can save a prized dung beetle. This may seem silly to risk character lives for a beetle, but the bug worshippers don't think so. Perhaps the group has to save a few fools that zealously went into the haunted ruins to save the bug themselves. This is just one way to modify an existing adventure to have an insect theme.

Bugs have diets, defences, and enemies. But picking an appropriate bug for an adventure can be quite daunting at times. To help chose the perfect insect; I personally keep a couple bug books handy. Science books, children fact books, even nature magazines can be a source of great inspiration. I have even found newspaper articles that have become adventures when they show elements of conflict, drama, and intrigue. There is bound to be a perfect bug for the perfect adventure.

The possibilities are endless as bug collectors, wizards, scientists, fanatics, and eco-terrorists all seek exotic insects. The hot chemical spray of a bombardier beetle could be the world's next great discovery or most devastating weapon. The world is full of great bug ideas. Who can forget the 1990 movie Arachnophobia, with Jeff Daniels and John Goodman? Guaranteed inspiration. The fact that bugs exist, and that we know so little about them, makes the adventure even more unpredictable. The plot takes a nasty twist when the assassin the players have been looking for turns out to be an innocent spider. What was the effect of the assassin rumors on the relationships of the people involved? Perhaps the real adventure explores how fear drives people to desperate action. Insects can be used to reveal the curious, fearful, and mysterious sides of our nature. . .making them a powerful tool.

Motivation and Instinct

Most bugs reproduce very quickly, and adapt even quicker. This can make them a very worthy adversary to the most seasoned player. Understanding the basic motivation and instincts behind the insect can add to the realism of the game. All bugs do not act the same way. Bugs can be aggressive or shy, and they can chase, ambush, run or fight. Just because the group's tent was just knocked over by a giant spider, doesn't mean the spider is going to attack the group. The spider could be more interested in catching prey in its web (like its instincts tell it to), then to fight it out with a group of people. Adding motivation and instinct to the equation is the finishing touch of a great bug story.

So the world is weird enough after all. Bugs can increase realism, add interest, or make the entire adventure. Whether it's mosquitoes nipping at camping elves, or the King's prize singing cricket, insects will always have a place in games. In fact, I think the next time my good friend comes over, I'll feed his 12th level paladin to a giant trapdoor spider.

Green Squirts Beetle

This is a small green beetle with a metalic exoskeleton. This beetle is also a parasite. It feeds off of sleeping animals puntruing their skin and suckingblood from them. It has a special venom that makes the area they bite completely numb so that you cant even feel the bite. Unfortunately this venom also causes waht is known as teh green squirts. Lets just say that the person soils their underwear with green stuff without meaning too.

Constant exposure to the venom causes sever stomach and intestine cramps along with acting as a laxative.

Boil Swarm Ants

These are small brown ants that look harmless at first. They have regualr nests like normal small ants. The only difference is that they are more aggressive. If you so much as get withing a 3 inch radius of thier home they will attack you. A boil developed whereever they happen to byte (just dont get one down your pants ) This is because the venom in there bite causes the boil.

The Love Bees

Peace full bees that are black with red strips. They are exactly like normal bees with one exception. There sting causes the person to love everyone for a week. Seriously the person they sting spend a week loving everythign around them, in a nostaligic state of bliss where everything seems perfect and lovely.

PeaceSpreader Bees

Exactly like Love bees only bigger and they are almost completely red with jsut two black strips. They are very aggressive and will sting anything that comes near there next. Unfortunately they love to nest in towns and an invastation has been none to turn a hostile town into a peaceful one.

Asclepius' Flies:

Asclepius' flies are similar in size to the ordinary housefly, but they are white, with crimson eyes (ugly little creatures). Unlike most flies, however, they are not diseased, in fact their remarkable immune system contains agents which tackle even human illnesses. This is the source of their white colouring also. The standard technique for capturing them, to use their juices, is to tempt one onto the palm of one's hand and then to quickly wring your palms, then rub the mush onto the afflicted area. This is not for the squeamish, but has definite healing possibilities.


Swordbiters are parasites. They are long, thin and silver, and digest metal, somewhat like rust monsters, but smaller and more insidious. They resemble stick insects, but when they cling to metal they are very well camouflaged, and one can be biting your sword for a week before you notice it. They cannot be removed by hand, as they are very strong, but if the blade is inserted into fire they will leap off to escape the flames. Sometimes, old treasure hoards are infested with them, and the first glimpse you get of the 'glittering' weapons is a pile of rusted swords encrusted with these thin silvery insects.


An insignficant little species, the candlebug (or waxmoth) is a persistent bane for mages and merchants alike. Each the size of a small digit, these little scarabs thrive on wax and burrow up inside candles, ruining them. Sometimes a late-night worker will hear a crack and a sizzle as his candle expires, only to find the half-burned remains of a waxmoth squirming around on his desk. This is very annoying in worlds where candles are expensive...

Biteme- An insect so small that it is nearly invisible, the Biteme is known for its irritating sting, which itches but does not hurt. These midges often gather in swarms to protect their egg-sacs, which, when split, release four-to-five-hundred young Bitemes.

Manylegs- A catch-all term for insects used in many of my settings.

Neekerbreeker- Taken from Tolkien. A relative of crickets which makes an annoying 'neekbreek-neekbreek' noise.

Mountain Beetle- This large beetle carries a stone as its back carapace, which doubles as camouflage and protection.

Singing Tapeworms

These lay their eggs in meat that is not kept as clean as it should be. When the PC eats the meat, the tapeworm settles in his stomach to feed. Like any good parasite, it never intentionaly kills it's host. When it gets to a certain size, it begins to make a noisy mating call that sounds like humming, that means that when the PC is asleep, a tiny insect will fly down the PC's throat and mate. Mated singing tapeworms produce winged versions. The humming can be heard from several feet away.

If the PC covers his/her mouth, the song will come out from the PC's bottom unless that is corked.

The singing tapeworm can be removed by any decent healing potion, or by certain herbs

Other interesting insects would be ones with some useful features.

A variation of the shelac beetle could have its carapices become sticky when heated; several hundred of these can be combined into armour pieces.

Special spellbook or scroll paper can be made from a type of paper wasp nest. This paper is tough, and readily accepts magic, far more than normal paper or vellum.

A NightGuardian mantis can be trained to become accustomed to one person, or a group. It not only eats mosquitos at night, but emits a shrill warning noise when a strange person or beast approaches.

Jewel Wraiths are shiny & ornamental insects with a wide variety of colouration & patterns. They are considered quite beautiful. The insect is highly poisonous, but is a very docile & slow plant eater, quite content to stay attached to a warm body as jewelry, provided it is kept sated on leafy vegetables each day--usually eaten nocturnally & sleeping attached to clothing during the day.

The Manna Bug is a desert-dwelling insect that secretes a nutritious substance overnight. This can be harvested early in the morning, enough to keep a large group fed & healthy for weeks at a time. (This one is based on a real insect.)

Lantern Bug

A Lantern Bug is the size of a man's hand,has wings and glows with a greenish light at night to attract moths and other insects to it. If it is fed now and then with small pieces of meat, it, or sometimes more then one bug, will hover above a person's head and provide light. Two or more bugs together will provide enougth light to see by.The bug's bites are painful and itchy but not normally dangerous and they only bite anything bigger then themselves in self defense. If trapped in something and used as a captive light source, they die within twelve hours if they are not fed and watered.

Cleaner Flies

Most insects, if they land on a wound, will infect it or worse. Cleaner Flies are the oppisite. They eat infected flesh, fungus/fungal spores, and parasites, but leave undamaged flesh and uninfected wounds alone. They are three inches long and covered wih red and white stripes, and are seen next to often highly dangerous creatures,even going into their jaws to clean their teeth without fear. One was once seen hovering beside a large spider, eating grubs that had burrowed into the spider's back. It is said that spiders will set a Cleaner Fly loose from their webs instead of eating it.

Dragon Flies

These foot long insects live around the caves of dragons and other large beasts of prey, and are red and white in colour with large jaws and iridescent wings. Far from being dangerous, they prey only on pests.They eat parasites,be they lice and that kind of thing, or athlete's foot fungus,although in the latter case they may eat a small amount of flesh as well, to destroy the roots of the fungus.They never harm a host on purpose except in self defence, and very few things will prey on them.Giant spiders have been known to free such flies from their webs,as the flies are so good at freeing the spiders of parasites.

I know that there are inherent physics problems with doing things as said in this post, but since we're all suspending our sense of disbelief when considering extra-large creatures anyways, lets let our simplistic imaginations do the work for us.

Well, assuming that such a thing is even possible (which it isn't without magic or illusion), one would probably be able to take the strength that an animal or insect might normally have and multiply it by how large it grew.

A normal ant is said to be able to pick up 50x it's body weight. So if an ant were able to grow to ten times the size of normal, it's strength would be ten times as great as normal, making it able to pick up 500x it's own weight. So, if you wished to know how much a spider could pick up at 8', simply figure out what the size difference is, how much it can normally lift, then multiply the two together for your result.

Simplistic? Yes, but will it work in a fantasy setting without too many problems? Most likely.

Tried attempting to find out the strength of a spider... al lI get is web strength... I need Moonhunters google foo right now.

Thanks Choas. I figured pretty much the same thing... but was hoping someone had already done the work

Indeed. Moonhunter's google-foo would be helpful as of now, for mine powers are not strong...*cries*

Quote from: 'Chaosmark'

A normal ant is said to be able to pick up 50x it's body weight. So if an ant were able to grow to ten times the size of normal, it's strength would be ten times as great as normal, making it able to pick up 500x it's own weight. So, if you wished to know how much a spider could pick up at 8', simply figure out what the size difference is, how much it can normally lift, then multiply the two together for your result.

Simplistic? Yes, but will it work in a fantasy setting without too many problems? Most likely.

Ack. No. The reason an ant can pick up 50x its own bodyweight has to do with the fact that muscular power becomes exponentially greater the smaller the creature. That's also the reason that a human being may be able to pick up his own body weight, but an elephant would find the same task impossible.

If you really want to figure out how strong an 8' long spider would be, compare it to a real life animal. Say, a tiger. An 8 foot tiger could physically drag or push about 800 pounds of sliding material with its entire body. With some logical reasoning, you could assume that the legs of an 8' long spider could push/pull about 100 pounds max.

Okay - A couple of things

1) Cube Square law- Increase in size has a cubic increase in volume. For every doubling of size, there is a 2 to the third increase in mass. If we take a approximate 2 meter tall human that weights 100 Kgs, then 4 meter tall human would weigh 800 Kgs. An 8 meter tall weights 6400 Kgs. This square to the cubic holds for most bilaterally symetrical creatures that have a main axis to double. So it works for just about every animal except squid/ octipi, but they have a smiliar law.

2) Most creatures can lift their own body weight. So while an Elephant seems strong, if you shrunk him down to a human size, he would be able to lift barely 100Kgs. An 800 lb animal should be able to pull/ lift 800 lbs easily (more when pulling, because rest friction). Hence the reason why there are very few tiny draft animals.

3) Muscle Tissue has the same tensile strength be it for huge creatures or small ones. I believe the number of 200 newtons per decameter, but I can't find a good source for that. So yes insects can lift a huge mass with one .1mm of tissue, realtive to their size. An Elephant can life several tons because it has several meters of muscle tissue supporting its lift.

4) Giant Insects don't happen in the real world for two reasons.

a) The exo skeletonal carpaces are so heavy that they would collapse under their own weight. Excluding that, after about 1 meter/3 feet in size, there is no way muscle tissue contained inside of it could move it.

b) Energy and oxygen burdens are too great at larger scales. Insects don't have real lungs, so they can not extract enough 02 to support their energy needs.

All this aside: You Dog Sized Spider-ish creature (which would have a light external carpace and an internal skeleton) would be about as strong as a Dog. Your Brown Bear sized spider woudld be about as strong as a brown bear, maybe even less (bears have an incredible strength to mass ratio). of course the spider would be more viscious as it has more armor and sharper claws.

For the record: Most spiders lift 40 times their own weight. Wolf Spider and other conventional large spiders (tarantulas) can lift only 12 times their own mass. Increased mass, increased internal weight to move, not a proportionally increase of muscle mass. These are numbers off my head, but I have seen them enough other places that I feel comfortable with them.

Of course we game in fantasy worlds, so giants don't sink in the ground and can move normally. Giant insects are the size of trucks. Guys get bit by radioative/ magical spiders and stick to walls and lift 30 times their own mass.

Here's something else to ponder, since the maximum weight issue for insect exoskeletons are based on weight rather than mass, that maximum changes in proportion to gravity. Thus, on Mars, insects could grow to three times the size--imagine dragonflys with two meter wingspans...

Giant Bugs

Yes, at one time of the history there were GIANT BUGS. That period in the Mesozoic period. The era was predicated on the shift from carbon diaoxide prevolence (which killed off most lifeforms of the previous era) to oxygen. The oxygen was produced by the mega-ferns and other plants. (Remember all those science class pictures showing huge odd looking, they came from this period.) This hyper oxygenated atmosphere was highly flamable and electrically charged. (Ozone layer as we know it was developing at this time.) Thus any lightning streak, let alone strike, would set the region on fire, with an airborn firestorm.

So if O2 levels reached high enough again, bugs will be able to gather enough O2 to grow to larger sizes.

Where did the 02 go? Atmospheric oxygen is removed by many living things. Immense amounts went into the shells of microscopic marine invertebrates during the Mesozoic. It is mostly locked up as limestone and chalk. The oxygen is presumed to be locked up, mainly as oxides and carbonates in sedimentary rock, or in solution in water and trapped in ice. Which is of course, melting. You know we did have some humungous spiders last year...

However, if you don't have flamable air and your bugs don't have lungs (in which case it is not a bug), it requires magic or something to keep them alive.