Earliest Fossil Record of Mating Insects Found: Froghopper's Mating Behaviors Unchanged For Over 165 Million Years

By Gabrielle Jonas on December 2, 2013 10:54 AM EST

Two Froghoppers Mating during the Middle Jurassic
Paleontologists found this unusual fossil in a museum in Beijing. (Photo: Shu Li and Chungkun Shih)
Modern Froghoppers Mating
Froghoppers still mate side by side, just as they did millions of years ago. (Photo: Janson Shih)

Proving once and for all that scientific curiosity knows no bounds, a team of five paleontologists recently published an article trumpeting their finding of a fossil that showed two insects caught in the act of copulation. The fossil was from the Middle Jurassic period of northeastern China, making it the earliest record of mating insects ever found.

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The results of their study, released in an article in the November issue of PLOS ONE Wednesday, November 6, 2013 confirmed what they already suspected about mating of the froghoppers, so called because their descendants hop on leaves, much like little tree frogs do. "Cases of mating individuals are particularly rare in the fossil record of insects, and most of them involved preservation in amber, while only in rare cases are they found in compression fossils," lead author Shu Li, from One Key Laboratory of Insect Evolution & Environmental Changes, Capital Normal University, in Beijing, wrote. "This considerably limits our knowledge of mating position and genitalia orientation during the Mesozoic, and hinders our understanding of the evolution of mating behaviors in this major component of modern ecosystems."

Li and his fellow paleotologists found the insects in samples in a museum in Beijing. They dubbed the pair of copulating froghoppers, Anthoscytina perpetua. The authors took  the name from the Latin perpet, or, eternal love, "in reference to this everlasting copulation, they wrote. Although they observed the froghoppers in a face-to-face position, movement created by the fossilization process itself, or "taphonoic effect," may have rolled them over 90 degrees or so, they conceded. "They exhibit belly-to-belly mating position as preserved, with male's aedeagus inserting into the female's bursa copulatrix," they wrote. But, they added, "Due to potential taphonomic effect, we cannot rule out that they might have taken side-by-side position, as in extant [existing] froghoppers."

Li and his colleagues noted that there could have been some torrid movement during copulatin. "Abdominal segments 8 to 9 of male are disarticulated," Li wrote, "suggesting these segments were twisted and flexed during mating." The paleontologists also noted that the genitalia of male and female, were symmetrical in shape.

Their conclusions didn't exactly make the earth shake. "Our findings, consistent with those of extant froghoppers, indicate froghoppers' genitalic symmetry and mating position have remained static for over 165 million years," they wrote. 

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