jurassic sex: fossil catches ancient bugs in the act

Es­ti­mated reading time is 2 min­utes.

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.”


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