Camouflage has long been one of the most significant evolutionary advantages. Insects have largely benefited from this characteristic, developing exoskeletons or other features (like wings) that make the organism blend in with the background or create an optical illusion that can confuse predators.
Humans, of course, have learned from this adaptation by developing our own forms of camouflage. We understand how certain patterns and colors can help us blend in with surroundings. But, apparently, humans were not the first organisms on this planet to use found materials as camouflage.
As a matter of fact, little insects also use plant matter, dirt, and even the exoskeletons shed by other insects, as camouflage to hide from predators or to get the drop on prey. More importantly, perhaps, the researchers say that insects have been doing this for probably more than 100 million years!
“Reconstructing the behavior of ancient animals is a challenge to paleontologists because ephemeral events are hardly preserved in the rock,” explains Dr. Bo Wang, of the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Nanjing explains; But occasionally few fossils document particular behaviors directly. We have some direct evidence of debris-carrying behavior; some fossils are carrying some debris on their back, which are trapped in amber.”
In addition, Oregon State University entomologist George Poinar comments, “These ancient fossils are quite remarkable. Widely known for his research on amber fossils, Poinar was not part of this particular study. Still, he goes on to respond that this study “show that insect behavior was very similar in the Cretaceous to what it is today. ”
Wang continues, “Only one group (chrysopoid larvae) exhibits highly setigerous tubular tubercles on the thorax and abdomen, which are no longer seen in extant chrysopoid larvae,” describing, of course, the extremely long filaments that grow out of the prehistoric green lacewing larvae relative. He adds, “But we do not know why these morphological adaptations are absent in modern counterparts.”
In the paper, the authors comment that this debris-carrying behavior of actively harvesting and carrying exogenous materials is one of the more interesting and complex insect behaviors because it requires not just the ability to recognize, collect, and carry these materials but because of how these evolutionary adaptations are related to morphological characteristics.
All the specimens in the study were juveniles, larvae; and so the researchers also report that this is something they must have been learning at the earliest stages.