Scientists have uncovered the earliest known evidence of an insect simulating a lichen as a survival technique, according to new findings published today in eLife
The research study suggests that the Jurassic moth lacewing Lichenipolystoechotes imitated the fossil lichen Daohugouthallus to assist conceal itself from predators. This interaction predates modern lichen-insect associations by 165 million years, suggesting that the lichen-insect mimicry (or ‘mimesis’) system was well developed during the mid-Mesozoic duration and provided lacewings with highly-honed survival methods.
Lichens, which consist of a fungus and alga living in close proximity, in some cases have a plant-like look and are sometimes simulated by modern-day animals and pests. One of the most popular cases of a lichen-insect association is when the peppered moth acquired a mutation that turned it black throughout the Industrial Transformation in Britain, enabling the moth to blend in with tree trunks and lichen darkened by soot.
” As lichen models are nearly absent in the fossil record of mimesis, it is still unclear regarding when and how the mimicry association between lichen and insect very first occurred,” describes lead author Hui Fang, a PhD student at the College of Life Sciences and Academy for Multidisciplinary Researches, Capital Normal University, Beijing, China. “The key to answer this concern is to find early examples of a lichen-like pest and a co-occuring lichen fossil.”
Fang and her team discovered deposits at the Daohugou 1 locality of Inner Mongolia in northeastern China that showed the 165- million-year-old lichen mimesis. The samples involved two lacewing types looking like a co-existing lichen from the current Middle Jurassic.
After verifying the event of the Jurassic lichen, the team then documented this mimetic relationship by describing structural resemblances and detailed measurements of the lacewing and lichen. Their outcomes recommend that when the lacewings rested in a lichen-rich habitat, a near-perfect match of their looks would help the pests’ concealment from predators.
” Our findings show that a micro-ecosystem including lichens and insects existed 165 million years back in Northeastern China,” concludes senior author Yongjie Wang, Associated Professor at the College of Life Sciences and Academy for Multidisciplinary Researches, Capital Regular University, Beijing. “This contributes to our existing understanding of the interactions in between bugs and their environments in the Mesozoic Age, and suggests that there are much more intriguing pest relationships awaiting discovery.”