jurassic sex: fossil catches ancient bugs in the act

THE TITLE OF THIS POST, “Fossil Catches Ancient Bugs in the Act,” was the headline for a piece in today’s Seattle Times (November 7, 2013). According to the paper, “Scientists say a fossil recovered in southeastern China depicts two insects locked in sexual congress roughly 165 million years ago, the oldest such relic ever discovered.”

The insects have been identified as an “extinct species of froghopper that exhibited striking similarities to their modern relatives.” The insects are approximately 1½ inches in length, not something that jumps out at you unless you are looking for it.

But the time period, 165,000,000 years ago, was the Jurassic Period in the Mesozoic Era. This was the era of the early dinosaurs becoming the beasts that ruled the world for the next 135,000,000 years.

Two bugs f*cking their itty-bitty brains out for 165,000,000 years.

As for the newspaper article itself, it was written by Monte Morin for the Los Angeles Times. Cleanly and clearly composed, the only thing that sticks out is the somewhat archaic term of “sexual congress.” But, what can he say: “Two bugs f*cking their brains out”?

Just to show us all that scientists do have a mushy side to them, the researchers have christened the insects as Anthoscytina perpetua, which is derived from the Latin for ‘eternal love.’

Photo of two ancient bugs (Anthoscytina perpetua) caught in the act of sex in fossilized lava from 165 million years ago.

FEATURED IMAGE: The photo at the top of the page is cropped from the photo of the fossilized insects. This is the earliest fossil of insect sex ever discovered. It reveals that, at least for the group of sap-sucking insects called froghoppers, sex hasn’t changed much over the last 165 million years.

Fossils of insects copulating—usually trapped in amber—are fairly rare, with only about 40 found around the world known to date, said study co-author Chung Kun Shih, a visiting professor from Capital Normal University in China. 

The researchers were excavating a fossil-rich area of Inner Mongolia in China when they discovered the two creatures clinging to each other. In this region, “insect fossils are so good we can see the detailed structure, including the hair,” Shih said.

The insects, of the species Anthoscytina perpetua, are face-to-face, with the male’s sex organ, called the aedeagus, clearly inserted into the female’s sex organ, called the bursa copulatrix. “The male and female organ—we can see it,” Shih said. “That’s really rare.”