One of the contestants in the weight lifting event was a Rhinoceros beetle. The human weight lifting record (2004) was 263 kg. Taking this weight and scaling it up for the rhino beetle we get 54,000 kg! In the programme we see the beetle just managed to do the lift but its smooth claw-like legs could not provide the necessary traction at this scale to stay upright; it slipped over at the last minute leading to disqualification!
The main problem with the programme of course is that 'scaling-up' is not an easy calculation. The strength of a human-sized beetle isn't simply obtained by multiplying the real-life strength by a simple factor (although to be fair there is a notice to this effect at the start of the programme).
In general insects are strong (mechanically and in relative muscle strength) for their size (x). As the creature gets smaller its mass (dependant on volume: x3) reduces more quickly than its surface area (and the cross section of its limbs, legs etc.: x2). Leverage effects also reduce as things get smaller. So even if the beetle's muscle power did scale proportionally, the mechanical strength of the beetles exo-skeleton, which would have to take this load, would not scale in the same way. Beetle's are composed of (modified) chitin which is a very strong material. But to support such a heavy lift the beetle would need to be very large from a structural point of view. A human sized beetle 'monster' attempting the 54 tonne weight lift would probably crack and break-up in the process!
There is no doubt that the programme is a lot of fun and you can hear that the professional sports commentators also loved it too! It's quite fascinating as long as you don't look too closely at the science.
References and Links
 Animal Games, BBC, 2004, BBC Worldwide Ltd
 In Animal Games the human size flea was in the high jump event. The bar was set for 622m but we see the flea jump thousands of meters!
How teachers can use these articles in a lesson
Why Hollywood Science
Open University Hollywood Science web site
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