fossils

Predatory cockroach found in dinosaur age amber

34f1d64c52c45a6bdce31bc5e48b86cc

Julio
Lacerda

Staff Artist and Writer
The majority of living cockroaches are scavengers, feeding on detritus along the forest floor or inside our kitchens. But 100 million years ago, a terrifying roach hunted other insects with spiky limbs.

Cockroaches are an ancient family of insects. The first members of the group lived at least 320 million years ago, during the Carboniferous period, and were not very different from the critters that can be found in our homes today. However, when dinosaurs prowled the forests of what is now Myanmar, a very different kind of cockroach scuttled around.


Manipulator modificaputis is the name of a predatory, mantis-like cockroach that lived 100 million years ago. Its remains were found preserved in amber, solidified tree sap that is often found containing insects and other small animals within it.


Contrary to the low-slung, wide-bodied and short-necked modern roaches that are adapted to find organic matter on the ground, Manipulator had a narrow body, slender wings, very long legs and a triangular head sitting atop an extended neck.


Its eyes were large for seeing in low-light conditions and, together with the high degree of maneuverability of the head, were perfect for spotting both prey and predators in the Cretaceous nights. The front legs were long and covered with short spikes that aided in capturing its victims.


The striking similarity with praying mantises is unexpected but not all that surprising. Although it may not seem like it, mantises are close relatives of cockroaches. The two groups, along with termites, belong to the superorder of insects called Dictyoptera.


The anatomical features that tie together mantises and roaches still exist today, like the structure of their wings, mouthparts and digestive systems. But each lineage took such different evolutionary paths that their relationship may be difficult to discern at first glance. Manipulator seems almost like a halfway form between them.


Fossil species like Manipulator show how the study of extinct animals can help us better understand how different organisms are connected, and how easily overlooked animals like cockroaches may hide a very interesting family history.

Image Credit: Peter Vršanský

34f1d64c52c45a6bdce31bc5e48b86cc

Julio
Lacerda

Staff Artist and Writer


http://sulc.us/jx59s
http://www.eartharchives.org/articles/predatory-cockroach-from-dinosaur-era-found-trapped-in-amber/