Researchers from Oregon State University have made an exciting discovery in a 100-million-year-old Burmese amber. They have identified a previously unknown genus and species of froghopper, a type of insect known for its impressive leaping ability in adulthood. The findings, published in the journal Life by George Poinar Jr. and Alex E. Brown, shed light on the biology and ecology of these ancient creatures.
The newly classified froghopper has been named Araeoanasillus leptosomus, derived from Greek words referring to its thin body and bristling hair resembling fern hairs. The froghopper belongs to the superfamily Cercopoidea, which includes five extant families—Cercopoidae, Aphrophoridae, Clastopteridae, Epipygidae, and Machaerotidae—as well as several extinct families such as Cercopionidae, Procercopidae, and Sinoalidae.
Poinar suggests that the specimen likely belongs to the family Sinoalidae based on its distinguishing characteristics. Froghoppers, classified in the order Hemiptera, are commonly referred to as “true bugs.” The Hemiptera order encompasses over 80,000 species, including cicadas, aphids, planthoppers, leafhoppers, bed bugs, and shield bugs. This discovery provides valuable insights into the diversity of Hemiptera and the evolution of froghoppers over time.
True bugs exhibit a wide range of sizes, spanning from 1 millimeter to 15 centimeters, although most individuals, except for certain small males, possess similar sucking mouthparts, according to Poinar. During their immature stage as “spittlebugs,” froghoppers puncture plant stems to extract sap, which they then expel from their rectum. The expelled fluid is frothed into a slippery foam, akin to a cappuccino, covering the spittlebug and serving as camouflage against predators like ants while safeguarding against parasitic wasps that lay eggs inside their bodies.
In adulthood, these brown insects, typically around 1 centimeter in length, exhibit extraordinary leaping abilities. Their hind legs possess specialized structures resembling the flex of an archery bow, allowing them to spring forward up to 100 times their body length with a force 400 times greater than their weight.
Froghoppers are versatile feeders, consuming various plant species, and can be found in any vegetated area. They have the ability to fly but often prefer leaping as their primary means of locomotion, folding their wings together like a tent over their bodies.
The recently identified fossilized froghopper belongs to an extinct species. It possesses a slender body measuring 7 millimeters in length, with a longer-than-wide head and broad, round eyes. Fern hairs (trichomes) are present on and around the specimen, indicating its association with ferns for feeding and egg-laying. During the mid-Cretaceous period when this froghopper existed, flowering plants were just beginning to diversify, making ferns abundant and likely a significant food source.
Poinar acknowledges the scarcity of knowledge regarding the biology of extinct froghoppers, such as their food preferences, feeding habits, presence of parasites, and whether the nymphs were capable of producing froth. Interestingly, the fossilized froghopper shares its final moments with a small beetle that also became trapped in the resin, appearing to overlap the froghopper’s head. Poinar raises the question of whether this association is a genuine interaction or simply a chance occurrence.
Source: Oregon State University