Oldest Known Fossil of Copulating Insects Discovered in China

A team of scientists has found a well-preserved, 165-million-year-old fossil of copulating froghoppers, Anthoscytina perpetua, at the Daohugou village in northeastern China.

This is an artist's impression of a pair of copulating froghoppers, Anthoscytina perpetua. Image credit: Li S et al.

This is an artist’s impression of a pair of copulating froghoppers, Anthoscytina perpetua. Image credit: Li S et al.

Fossil records of mating insects are fairly sparse, and therefore our current knowledge of mating position and genitalia orientation in the early stages of evolution is rather limited.

In a study, published in the open-access journal PLoS ONE, the team presents a fossil of copulating Middle Jurassic froghoppers, a type of small insect that hops from plant to plant much like tiny frogs.

The well-preserved fossil of these two 15-mm-long froghoppers showed belly-to-belly mating position and depicts the male reproductive organ inserting into the female copulatory structure.

165-million-year-old fossil of copulating froghoppers, Anthoscytina perpetua. Image credit: Li S et al.

165-million-year-old fossil of copulating froghoppers, Anthoscytina perpetua. Image credit: Li S et al.

This is the oldest record of copulating insects to date, and suggests that froghoppers’ genital symmetry and mating position have remained static for over 165 million years.

“We found these two very rare copulating froghoppers which provide a glimpse of interesting insect behavior and important data to understand their mating position and genitalia orientation during the Middle Jurassic,” explained senior author Dr Dong Ren from the Capital Normal University in China.

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Bibliographic information: Li S et al. 2013. Forever Love: The Hitherto Earliest Record of Copulating Insects from the Middle Jurassic of China. PLoS ONE 8 (11): e78188; doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0078188