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A Prehistoric Praying Mantis and a New Fairy-Like Cave Insect

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While conducting fieldwork at an abandoned iron mine in Labrador, Canada, researchers found a fossil of a prehistoric praying mantis that lived alongside the dinosaurs about 100 million years ago during the Late Cretaceous Period.

This newly discovered species, which has been named Labradormantis guilbaulti, was found by a research team led by McGill University with help from members of the Muséum national d’Histoire naturelle in Paris and the Musée de paléontologie et de l’évolution in Montreal.

This newly discovered species provides a better understanding of the evolution of the most “primitive” praying mantises from modern times in addition to how their wings evolved over time.

Alexandre Demers-Potvin, who is a PhD student at McGill, a National Geographic Emerging Explorer, and the lead author of the study, explained how they found the fossil while looking through the mine’s rubble, “Every now and then, one of the burgundy rocks on the ground would contain either a fossil leaf or a fossil insect, which we would then promptly collect. When the two fossils of Labradormantis guilbaulti were found in the field, none of us could identify them at first. It was only when I showed photos to paleoentomologist Olivier Béthoux, the senior author of this paper, that we started to think that we had the hind-wings of a previously unknown primitive mantis species.”

Praying Mantis

Hans Larsson, who is from McGill’s Redpath Museum and another author of the study, weighed in on how rare it was to gather so much information without a complete fossil trapped in amber, “In our paper, we present a very rare case in which a less well-preserved fossil has a similarly high impact. We hope that this study inspires investigations of other wing impression fossils to address similar questions elsewhere in the insect evolutionary tree.” Their study can be read in full here.

An artist’s impression of the Labradormantis guilbaulti can be seen here.

In other insect news, a new fairy-like cave-dwelling Kinnaridae has been discovered in the Valencia caves. This new genus of Hemiptera has been named Valenciolenda fadaforesta which means “fairy of the Valencian forests” because the specimens were discovered in the natural reserves of the Sierra Calderona and Les Rodanes of Vilamarxant. It has no eyes or ocelli, has glassy-looking wings with bright blue waxy hairs on the border (in the male species), and has a pale pigmentation.

Sergio Montagud, who is a biologist from the Natural History Museum of the University of Valencia and was a part of the international team of researchers who discovered the new species, described the insect further detail, “This is a very interesting species.” “The males show very marked ornamentation, which has been observed in other cave species and whose function we do not know. We don’t think they can fly, but they are capable of considerable leaps and can use their wings to glide.”

The Valenciolenda fadaforesta was found in a cave.

He went on to say, “Valenciolenda descends from a species that was once epigeal, that is, not underground, and that must have lived in an ecosystem and among a completely different fauna,” adding, “Those conditions changed and the current representatives of the family are distributed in remote areas. Valenciolenda adapted to the subterranean world as a survivor of that fauna that has now disappeared, just as there are other species of relict invertebrates in Valencian caves that tell us about those extinct ancestors, such as the Ildobates neboti beetle.” (The research can be read here.)

The Valenciolenda fadaforesta uses its beak to feed on plant and tree sap that comes from the roots that grow down into the cave. A picture of the Valenciolenda fadaforesta can be seen here.

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