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ScienceShot: Insect Sex Is Oldest on Record

6 November 2013 5:15 pm
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ScienceShot: Insect Sex Is Oldest on Record

Li S, et al., PLoS ONE 8, 11 (2013)

Talk about a dull sex life: Froghoppers have been doing it the same way for 165 million years. That’s the conclusion researchers have reached after analyzing the remains of a pair of the champion-jumper insects preserved in flagrante delicto for all time. Records of ancient sex—like the fossil that resulted when this couple was killed and covered by fine, poisonous, volcanic ash (above right)—are unusual: There are only 33 other instances of preserved mating insects, most trapped in amber. Found in northeastern China, the new fossil not only represents a new species of froghopper, Anthoscytina perpetua—it is also the oldest example of insect sex by about 60 million years. The rare glimpse into vintage insect copulation revealed something ordinary: Froghoppers have been having sex the same way for millions and millions of years, the team reports today in PLOS ONE. Assuming a belly-to-belly position while perched on a stem (as reconstructed in the artist’s impression above, left) is still in vogue for modern froghoppers. The detailed preservation also shows that the male abdomen was segmented, and flexible: The two fossilized specimens would have likely assumed a side-by-side position when mating on a flat surface like a leaf, as current froghoppers do. The evolutionary lesson: Modern froghopper sex positions are tried and true.  

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