Insect Camouflage Behavior Dates Back To The Cretaceous

Fossils of green lacewings and other insects dating back to the mid-Cretaceous show how they evolved to carry debris as camouflage.

AsianScientist (Jun. 28, 2016) – Chinese scientists have discovered exceptionally-preserved fossils of debris-carrying insects from Cretaceous Burmese, French and Lebanese ambers.

The fossils, described in the journal Science Advances, provide insights into the early evolution of camouflage in insects, and include the earliest known chrysopoid larvae (green lacewings), myrmeleontoid larvae (split-footed lacewings and owlflies) and reduviids (assassin bugs).

Insects have developed diverse types of camouflage that play an important role in their evolutionary success. Debris-carrying is among the most fascinating and complex behaviors as it requires an ability to recognize, collect and carry materials.

The fossil record of such behavior, however, is extremely scarce. Only a single Mesozoic example from Spanish amber had previously been recorded. Therefore, little is known about the early evolution of this complicated behavior and its underlying anatomy.

According to first author Dr. Wang Bo from the Nanjing Institute of Geology and Palaeontology of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, these ancient insects used a variety of debris material, including insect exoskeletons, sand grains and soil dust, to camouflage themselves.

The insects had convergently evolved their debris-carrying behavior through multiple pathways, suggesting a high degree of evolutionary plasticity.

Chrysopoid larvae from mid-Cretaceous Burmese amber. Credit: Wang Bo
Chrysopoid larvae from mid-Cretaceous Burmese amber. Credit: Wang Bo

These fossils are the oldest direct evidence of camouflage behavior in the fossil record and show unequivocal evidence of camouflage in immature lacewings and reduviids dating back more than 100 million years.

They demonstrate that debris-carrying behavior, which is associated with considerable morphological changes, was already widespread among insects by at least the mid-Cretaceous.

The article can be found at: Wang et al. (2016) Trash-Carrying Camouflage Among Diverse Lineages of Cretaceous Insects.


Source: Chinese Academy of Sciences.
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