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Insect debris fashion goes back to the Cretaceous

Myrmeleontoid larvae

Amber preserved the unique decorations of a larva from the Myrmeleontoid family (shown and illustrated at right). 

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Some insects make dirt look like — well, dirt. And they’ve been doing it for a while.

Donning a bit of debris to blend in with the environment is common practice for a subset of insects and other creepy-crawlies trying to hide from predators. (Crabs, spiders and snails do it, too.) To investigate when this behavior originated, Bo Wang of the Chinese Academy of Sciences and colleagues examined insects preserved in amber from Burma, France and Lebanon that date back 100 million years to the Cretaceous period.

Out of 300,000 insect specimens examined, 39 of them sported what appear to be dirt and vegetation disguises. Anatomical analysis suggests that these insects are early relatives of lacewings, assassin bugs and owlflies. The ancient critters decorated themselves with soil, sand, bits of wood and even tiny ferns, the team reports June 24 in Science Advances.

Until now, only one preserved, dirt-decorated insect from the Mesozoic era had been discovered. But the new finds suggest that this behavior was already widespread in some insect families back then. 

Animals,, Neuroscience

Baby birds’ brains selectively respond to dads’ songs

By Helen Thompson 6:00am, June 22, 2016
The neurons of young male birds are more active when listening to songs sung by dad than by strangers, a new study finds.
Microbes

Tests turn up dicey bagged ice

By Laura Beil 5:56pm, June 17, 2016
Tests of bagged ice found that 19 percent exceeded recommended thresholds for bacterial contamination.
Biomedicine,, Physiology

Stem cells from pig fat aid in growing new bone

By Cassie Martin 6:30am, June 16, 2016
Scientists transform fat stem cells into bone and grow new jaws for minipigs.
Animals,, Genetics

City living shortens great tits' telomeres

By Helen Thompson 12:22pm, June 15, 2016
Great tits raised in urban nests have shorter protective caps on their chromosomes than those raised in rural nests.
Health,, Microbiology

WHO: Very little risk that Brazil’s Olympics will speed Zika’s spread

By Meghan Rosen 5:49pm, June 14, 2016
Olympics not likely to hasten international spread of Zika virus, according to WHO analysis that includes data from previous mass gatherings.
Animals

Lemurs sing in sync — until one tries to go solo

By Helen Thompson 4:00pm, June 14, 2016
Indris, a lemur species in Madagascar, sing in synchrony and match rhythm, except for young males trying to stand out.
Climate,, Oceans

The ‘super’ El Niño is over, but La Niña looms

By Thomas Sumner 5:10pm, June 9, 2016
The 2015–2016 El Niño has officially ended while its meteorological sister, La Niña, brews.
Genetics,, Ecology

Gene drives aren’t ready for the wild, report concludes

By Tina Hesman Saey 10:10am, June 9, 2016
A type of genetic engineering called gene drives need more work, a National Academies report concludes.

Desert moss slurps water from its leaves, not roots

By Helen Thompson 3:00pm, June 8, 2016
To survive in arid deserts across the globe, one moss species replenishes its water stocks by catching dewdrops with its leaves.
Chemistry

Four newest elements on periodic table get names

By Emily Conover 2:14pm, June 8, 2016
Four elements officially recognized in December, highlighted in yellow, now have names that honor Japan, Moscow, Tennessee and physicist Yuri Oganessian.
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