Ancient, disguised insects discovered in amber fossils

We may not be pulling dinosaur DNA from insects fossilized in amber any time soon, but fossilized insects can still give us a window into the past: a team of researchers at the Chinese Academy of Sciences have documented 39 examples of ancient insects disguising themselves with various items, from general debris to the exoskeletons of dispatched foes. The team, which was led by Bo Wang, had to search through more than 300,000 fossils to find these specimens, which hail from the mid-Cretaceous period.

That means a lot of these insects, which were documented in the June 24 issue of Science Advances, are tens of millions of years old. Being fossilized in amber gives scientists an edge when it comes to studying the behaviors of these ancient insects, as fossilization in rock wouldn't necessarily show the debris these insects had collected at the time they died. With amber fossilization, however, everything is perfectly preserved for the scientists to study, showing that insects camouflaging their bodies to sneak up on prey and stay safe from predators may not necessarily be a strictly modern occurrence.

Much like their current-day larvae counterparts, all of the specimens discovered by Wang's group were juveniles, which suggests that this behavior is employed from an early age. Wang also writes that this particular discovery is significant because before these specimens were unearthed, the fossil record was "extremely scarce" and consisted of a single sample of Spanish amber from the Mesozoic era. With that in mind, the fact that scientists now have nearly 40 other examples to reference is huge indeed.

All in all, this is a pretty big discovery for Paleoecology, as it offers up "the oldest direct evidence of camouflaging behavior in the fossil record." If you'd like to read more about this discovery, the entire paper is available to read online at Science Advances, under the title "Debris-carrying camouflage among diverse lineages of Cretaceous insects."