Ancient Antlions Caught In Amber Shed More Light Over Their Evolution

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The ancient group of lacewing insects known as Myrmeleontiformia consists mostly of antlions characterized by predatory larvae with odd behaviors and morphologies. Now, an international team of scientists headed by the Chinese Academy of Sciences discovered ancient antlions caught in amber dating back to mid-Cretaceous, approximately 100 million years ago. The study was issued in the Nature Communications journal yesterday, August 22nd.

After the scientists unearthed ancient antlions preserved in Burmese amber, they revealed never-before-seen traits of the Myrmeleontiformia family, even though, in general, this lacewing insects did not change much in the last 100 million years. The morphological stasis assisted researchers in recreating these insects’ behaviors, showing the lifestyle of extinct Myrmeleontiformia.

By correlating some morphological traits with the hunting strategies, such as digging and camouflaging, the scientists depicted the habits of the extinct ancient antlions species.

Ancient antlions caught in amber revealed new information on their lifestyle and hunting behaviors

The study discovered that the so-called fossorial abilities (the skill to dig and build underground nests) evolved in Myrmeleontiformia family form their arboreal ancestors. This lifestyle made it possible for the ancient antlions to develop and survive for millions of years, permitting these lacewing insects to colonize arid habitats where they managed to stay alive and overcome the many changes that occurred in the Cretaceous period.

On the other hand, the researchers also found out that debris carrying is also a behavior that characterized this lineage of insects over the last 100 million years. Also, the ancient antlions showed elongated protuberances that were used to carry debris to camouflage.

The study, carried out by the Chinese Academy of Sciences, helped by Italian researchers, also revealed that the camouflaging behavior and the fossorial abilities ensured the Myrmeleontiformia lineage’s evolution and survival, permitting the ancient antlions predatory larvae to approach their prey undetected.