Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Camouflage Evolution in Albian/Cenomanian Cretacous Insect Preserved in Amber

Those who go to a masked ball consciously slip into a different role, in order to avoid being recognized so quickly. Insects were already doing something very similar in the Cretaceous: They cloaked themselves in pieces of plants, grains of sand, or the remains of their prey, in order, for example, to be invisible to predators. An international research team, with participation from the University of Bonn, has now investigated such "invisibility cloaks" encased in amber. The custom-tailored "costumes" also permit conclusions about the habitat at the time. The results have now been published in the journal "Science Advances".

The larva of the lacewing attacks a pseudoscorpion and uses its powerful mouthparts to suck it dry. The larva then puts the remains of the dead prey on its back. The outlines of the lacewing are now unrecognizable. It looks more like a dead pseudoscorpion. This camouflage protects the lacewing against being recognized by predators and at the same makes it easier to hunt its own prey. "With this 'disguise', the lacewing larva pretends to be someone completely different", says Prof. Dr. Jes Rust of the Steinmann-Institute of the University of Bonn. "Using the pieces of its prey, it even takes on the smell of the pseudoscorpion".

The scene plays out in the Cretaceous and is recorded as a "snapshot" in amber. A research team under Dr. Bo Wang of the State Key Laboratory of Paleobiology and Stratigraphy in Nanjing (China) worked together with paleontologists from the University of Bonn and other scientists from China, USA, France, and England to examine a total of 35 insects preserved in amber. With the aid of grains of sand, plant residue, wood fibers, dust, or even the lifeless shells of their victims, the larvae achieved camouflage to perfection. The amber samples come from Myanmar, France, and Lebanon.

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