Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Ancient 'fig wasp' lived tens of millions of years before figs

Date:
December 5, 2013
Source:
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Summary:
A 115-million-year-old fossilized wasp from northeast Brazil presents a baffling puzzle to researchers. The wasp's ovipositor, the organ through which it lays its eggs, looks a lot like those of present-day wasps that lay their eggs in figs. The problem, researchers say, is that figs arose about 65 million years after this wasp was alive.

Although it lived roughly 65 million years before the earliest known occurrence of figs, the fossil wasp's ovipositor closely resembles those of today's fig wasps.
Credit: Nathan Barling and Sam Heads

A 115-million-year-old fossilized wasp from northeast Brazil presents a baffling puzzle to researchers. The wasp's ovipositor, the organ through which it lays its eggs, looks a lot like those of present-day wasps that lay their eggs in figs. The problem, researchers say, is that figs arose about 65 million years after this wasp was alive.

A report of the findings appears in the journal Cretaceous Research.

The wasp belongs to the Hymenoptera superfamily known as Chalcidoidea, which parasitize other insects, spiders and some plants. The group includes about 22,000 known species and is estimated to contain up to 500,000 species.

"This is a tiny parasitic wasp, it's the smallest fossil wasp found in this particular deposit and it's the oldest representative of its family," said Sam Heads, a paleoentomologist at the Illinois Natural History Survey at the University of Illinois. "More importantly, it's possible that this wasp was fig-associated, which is interesting because it's Early Cretaceous, about 115 to 120 million years old. That's a good 65 million years or so prior to the first occurrence of figs in the fossil record."

Heads worked in collaboration with University of Portsmouth scientists Nathan Barling and David Martill.

The new findings demonstrate the value of studying insect fossils, Heads said.

"The fossil record of insects is very extensive both geographically and temporally. It goes back 415 to 420 million years and preserves the ancestral forms of a lot of the insects that are alive today," he said. "So it's a great resource for understanding insect evolutionary history and the distribution of insects across the planet in the past."

The presence of a wasp with an ovipositor that looks like those used by fig wasps today is not hard evidence that figs were around in the fossil wasp's day -- a time of dinosaurs, Heads said.

"There is no evidence of the existence of figs at this time and the most recent molecular study doesn't place figs that far back," he said. While it is possible that figs are older than current studies indicate, it is also possible that "something like a fig was around and this wasp was parasitizing whatever that was."

This could be an example of convergent evolution, where separate species independently evolve similar traits, he said. Or the fossil wasp could be the ancestor of the fig wasp, and its ovipositor, first adapted to a plant or fruit that was around long before the fig, later found a use in figs.

Comparing insect fossils with living organisms offers new insights into the natural history of insects, the plants they pollinate and their hosts or prey, Heads said. This differs significantly from studies of the fossils of animals that have become extinct.

"When you talk about paleontology to people the first thing they think of is dinosaurs," he said. "And that's great. Dinosaurs are really exciting, wonderful animals. But for the most part, they're extinct. With insects and other arthropods like spiders and scorpions, they're around still. So we have modern forms to compare our fossil forms to, which is incredibly useful."


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. Nathan Barling, Sam W. Heads, David M. Martill. A new parasitoid wasp (Hymenoptera: Chalcidoidea) from the Lower Cretaceous Crato Formation of Brazil: The first Mesozoic Pteromalidae. Cretaceous Research, 2013; 45: 258 DOI: 10.1016/j.cretres.2013.05.001

Cite This Page:

University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. "Ancient 'fig wasp' lived tens of millions of years before figs." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 5 December 2013. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/12/131205141625.htm>.
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. (2013, December 5). Ancient 'fig wasp' lived tens of millions of years before figs. ScienceDaily. Retrieved April 17, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/12/131205141625.htm
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. "Ancient 'fig wasp' lived tens of millions of years before figs." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/12/131205141625.htm (accessed April 17, 2014).

Share This



More Plants & Animals News

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

The Great British Farmland Boom

The Great British Farmland Boom

Reuters - Business Video Online (Apr. 17, 2014) Britain's troubled Co-operative Group is preparing to cash in on nearly 18,000 acres of farmland in one of the biggest UK land sales in decades. As Ivor Bennett reports, the market timing couldn't be better, with farmland prices soaring over 270 percent in the last 10 years. Video provided by Reuters
Powered by NewsLook.com
Change of Diet Helps Crocodile Business

Change of Diet Helps Crocodile Business

Reuters - Business Video Online (Apr. 16, 2014) Crocodile farming has been a challenge in Zimbabwe in recent years do the economic collapse and the financial crisis. But as Ciara Sutton reports one of Europe's biggest suppliers of skins to the luxury market has come up with an unusual survival strategy - vegetarian food. Video provided by Reuters
Powered by NewsLook.com
Could Even Casual Marijuana Use Alter Your Brain?

Could Even Casual Marijuana Use Alter Your Brain?

Newsy (Apr. 16, 2014) A new study conducted by researchers at Northwestern and Harvard suggests even casual marijuana use can alter your brain. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Thousands Of Vials Of SARS Virus Go Missing

Thousands Of Vials Of SARS Virus Go Missing

Newsy (Apr. 16, 2014) A research institute in Paris somehow misplaced more than 2,000 vials of the deadly SARS virus. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:
from the past week

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins