Examinations of amber have revealed that insect larvae had already developed a diverse array of defensive tactics to shield themselves from predators 100 million years ago.
In the early stages of insect life, their roles in ecosystems are crucial. They participate in the decomposition of deceased organisms and wood, contributing to soil formation and the recycling of different elements.
Additionally, they serve as a primary food source for numerous larger creatures like birds and mammals. Consequently, many insect larvae have evolved various structures and methods to mitigate the risk of being preyed upon. These adaptations encompass characteristics such as spines, hairs, camouflage, and concealment, among others. Over millions of years, a wide spectrum of such defensive strategies has emerged.
Researchers at LMU, the University of Greifswald, and the University of Rostock scrutinized exceptionally well-preserved fossils from Burmese amber. Their study demonstrated the diverse forms of anti-predator mechanisms that were already present in insect larvae during the Cretaceous period, dating back 100 million years. Notable examples include the tactics employed by lacewing larvae, which carried diverse plant and animal materials on their backs to blend in, and the imitation of certain plant parts to deceive predators.
Professor Carolin Haug, the lead author and a zoologist at the Faculty of Biology, highlighted an extraordinary finding: the discovery of the oldest known larva of a scorpionfly, possessing specialized hairs on its back for affixing camouflage material. Haug also mentioned sawfly larvae that inhabited leaves, constructing tunnels as they fed on the thin leaf interior.
The research, published in the journal iScience, illustrates that insect larvae possessed a wide range of defensive strategies 100 million years ago. Haug emphasized that studying past diversity and the evolution and disappearance of various morphologies aids in comprehending these processes, particularly crucial in the context of the ongoing biodiversity crisis.
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