Amber Fossil with Smart Camouflage

amber fossil Coleoptera Brentidae Apion

Amber fossil of a Coleoptera Brentidae Apion, showing perfect preservation.

Researchers found a fascinating method of camouflage in an amber fossil. The creature in question is an insect that covered itself in dust and pieces of plants to match the environment and get closer to their prey and hide from predators.

The fossil was found to be more than 100 million years old. It seems that the insect fell into resin for one reason or another, and as time went on the resin hardened and fossilized.

Amber fossils can preserve matter and particles in a much more efficient way than other methods. Therefore, scientists can even manage not only to obtain accurate information on anatomy components and composition but also they are offered clues to behavior and environment.

“Reconstructing the behavior of ancient animals is a challenge to paleontologists because ephemeral events are hardly preserved in the rock. But occasionally few fossils document particular behaviors directly. We have some direct evidence of debris-carrying behavior; some fossils are carrying some debris on their back, which are trapped in amber,” said Dr. Bo Wang from the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Nanjing.

The Chinese researchers analyzed 300,000 amber fossil insects from various locations in China, Myanmar, Lebanon and France looking for other small creatures that used this type of camouflage. They finally found 39 specimens that they later described in a paper as belonging to three different groups, Chrysopidae, Reduviidae, and Myrmeleontoid.

Out of the three categories, one contains green lacewings, the second includes split-footed lacewings and owlflies, and the last one is composed of assassin bugs.

One amber fossil displayed filaments or bristles growing out of their backs to support the debris they used for camouflage. This type of adaptive structure still can be found in their descendants, with one exception that did not survive time.

The only technique that was lost in time was that of a group of green lacewings, which displayed a series of long tubular filaments growing out of their abdomens and thoraxes. Researchers did not find an explanation for the disappearance of such an unusual morphological adaptation.

The camouflage is considered to be a highly evolutionary trait because it involves a whole list of abilities and also a very specific evolutionary adaptation. Therefore, an insect would have to know to recognize, collect and then carry the materials, and it also had to find a way to develop physical characteristics that would support their camouflage technique.

All the insect specimens described in the paper are larvae, as the method was inserted into the lives of the creatures from a very early stage of development.

The new study shows that the camouflage was an established behavior 130 million years ago. The scientists are amazed that the Cretaceous amber fossil had behaviors just as elaborate as today’s insects.

Image Source: Wikipedia