While many species are known to have evolved specialised colouration to better blend into their environmental backgrounds, there is another important form of camouflage: incorporate your environment into your appearance! This can be seen across the animal kingdom, including in insects and their larvae, sea urchins, and snails. Now, researchers have found some of the earliest known evidence for this advanced behaviour in amber-preserved insects dating back more than 100 million years from Myanmar, France and Lebanon. Not only do these animals represent some of the oldest material to show debris-carrying, but they include species from across three different taxonomic families, indicating that by the mid-Cretaceous this tactic was already well-established in multiple groups. Wang and his colleagues meticulously studied more than 300,000 individual insects from amber samples to identify just a handful of animals exhibiting this fascinating behaviour. From our knowledge of modern insects and their habits, it’s also possible that some of the new fossil specimens are including parts of prey items in their camouflage, a ‘wolf in sheeps’ clothing’ approach which can be seen in the larvae of living chryosopoid larvae. If this is the case, these stunning finds will not only reveal the history of this cryptic behaviour but will allow us to unearth further details of the ecosystem structure and interspecific interactions surrounding these ancient individuals.
Image courtesy of Bo Wang. Read the article here.