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Ancient amber reveals earliest example of insect brood care

Female insects are rarely found in amber deposits.

By
Brooks Hays
A brooding female insect trapped in ancient deposit of amber. Photo by University of Bonn/Chinese Academy of Sciences/eLife
A brooding female insect trapped in ancient deposit of amber. Photo by University of Bonn/Chinese Academy of Sciences/eLife

SHANGHAI, March 31 (UPI) -- An ancient hunk of amber found in northern Myanmar has revealed a rare specimen -- an adult female scale insect. Even rarer, the female is carrying upwards of 60 eggs on her abdomen. Also stuck in the amber are six scale insect nymphs.

Dated somewhere between 95 and 105 million years old, the amber fossil is the earliest evidence of brood care among insect species.

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It's possible that parental care among insects is even older, but female insects are rarely found in amber deposits. The female scale insect, without wings and thus less mobile that other species, was more liable to find itself haphazardly landing in a pool of sap.

"Brood care could have been an important driver for the early radiation of scale insects, which occurred during the end of the Jurassic or earliest Cretaceous period during the Mesozoic era," lead author Bo Wang, a researcher and associate professor at the Chinese Academy of Sciences and Germany's University of Bonn, explained in a press release. "Although analysis seemed to suggest that ancient insects evolved brood care, this is the first direct, unequivocal evidence for the fossil record."

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Wang and his colleagues named the new species Wathondara kotejai -- a combination honoring the Buddhist earth goddess Vasudhara and the late Polish entomologist Jan Koteja.

Similarly ancient cockroaches have previously been found with eggs, but cockroaches have been proven to deposit their eggs -- declining to carry their maturing offspring.

The research was published this week in the journal eLife.

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