Next week will be the last part in this series of Jurassic insects. I really did try to fit all the rest of them in this post, but when I saw how many different families were in with grasshoppers, crickets, and lacewings, I had to have a post just for them. So if you can bear with me for just a bit longer with all these bugs, we’ll explore a few true bugs and other insects crawling into the kitchen sink for this round.
The earliest fossils of these insanely tiny insects (1mm long) date back to the Permian. Most are plant suckers with unusual asymmetrical mouth parts. Those that have the filamentous appendages they call wings do not fly very well, and do not even fly in the same way as other insects. Instead of “flapping”, they use a “clap and fling” method by clapping their odd wings together along their backs, the vortexes created gives them the lift they need to then “fling” themselves forward.
These silvery insects have lived virtually unchanged since the Carboniferous Period, and are an example of what the very first insects looked like. They are so similar, in fact, that scientists can use them to learn about the sense of smell, hearing, and vision of these most ancient insects before flying insects appeared on the scene. They eat all manner of decaying debris.
Aphids are a huge and diverse group of tiny insects that appeared in the early Permian period. They are “true bugs”, which is a large group of insects with special mouth parts that can pierce plants (or other insects in some cases), and suck up the juices like the straws that come with juice boxes. Aphids have a unique ability of producing live offspring very quickly, and sometimes the young are born ready to produce another young aphid! When a young female is born with wings, she finds a male partner to keep the cycle going.
Cicadas are another “true bug”, with the same “juice-box straw” mouth parts as aphids specialized for drinking plant juices. The earliest known relative that looked very much like these insects was from the Permian, but true Cicadas as we know them are from the Late Triassic Period. They typically live as grubs for a year or more before finally crawling out of the ground and leaving their skins behind on tree trunks as we know them to do today. Some live as grubs for up to 17 years!
A group known from as early as the Triassic Period, this particular insect is from an order known as the Gladiators, which have fossils dating to the Jurassic Period. They are wingless, carnivorous insects.
These insects appeared in the Late Triassic Period. They get their scientific name “Dermaptera”, for the small wings that cover the much larger wings they use to fly. In fact, the name “earwig” comes from the shape of their wings and the Old English word for beetle ( wicga), not from any habit of crawling into people’s ears (which they don’t typically do). Just like all the other insects so far with intimidating jaws and “stingers”, these pincers don’t actually do any harm to humans. They are used for defense and intimidation, or for holding prey or a partner, but do not have the venom of a bee’s sting. The males tend to have pincers that are larger and more curved than the females.
Fossils of these insects are found from the Jurassic. Their name comes from the silk homes, or galleries, the females spin from glands on their forelegs. These females often live in colonies with their sisters and daughters and rarely move far from their birth place, but the males grow wings and move off to find partners further away.
Cockroach- ish insects have been around since the Carboniferous, but proper cockroaches as we know them today did not appear until the late Jurassic Period. In fact, Cockroaches from the Jurassic are more closely related to modern Praying Mantis and Termites than they are to the cockroach- ish things scuttling around the undergrowth during the Carboniferous. So not the immortal insects they are often said to be. They generally feed on rotting plant matter or other bits we would not call edible, and though they can get rather large, Jurassic roaches were not any bigger than they are today.
Any sort of list for prehistoric insects was mostly unhelpful. Research for this page mostly involved painstaking unwinding of threads from modern groups, then tracing back on which ones are the oldest and most “primitive” groups. Sometimes Wikipedia had a handy little chart on the upper right-hand corner to say when in time a group of insects appeared, but mostly I went down names of groups one by one to see if there were any fossils from that group, or modern species that look nearly identical to their fossil ancestors.
Once I crawled into the rabbit hole I just had to keep going, even when I realized I’d bitten into quite a bit more than I could chew. I hope you enjoyed it as much as I did!
I am eternally grateful that Wikipedia is such a great resource. From the sheer numbers of insects I discovered I’m afraid I did not have the time to cross reference with other resources, but feel free to look into the many resources Wikipedia lists at the bottom of each article if you want to find out more!
“List of Prehistoric Insects.”