Science News: Amphibious Caterpillars and Ancient Ants

by Katie Bowell, Curator of Cultural Interpretation

Two recent biodiversity discoveries are adding to our knowledge of the natural history of insects, both living and extinct.

Amphibious Caterpillars

Hyposmocoma sp.

The first truly amphibious (living on both land and water) insects have been discovered in Hawaii. Caterpillars of the moth genus Hyposmocoma can function both on the land and under the water. The genus is endemic (native) to Hawaii with over 400 species, but most of the species are strictly terrestrial. The amphibious caterpillars feed both on land and in the water, and build silk “tube” cases to protect themselves.

While there are many genera of terrestrial insects that have an aquatic phase to their lifecycle (mayflies, stoneflies, dragonflies, and caddisflies to name a few), this is the first insect discovered that has one phase of of its life cycle that can survive in both water and land.

Ancient Ants

Africa’s First Fossil Ant

The first fossil of an ant found anywhere in Africa was discovered in Ethiopia, preserved in amber along with 27 other insects, one spider and one mite. Dating from the Cretaceous, approximately 99 million years ago, this fossilized ant challenges theories around the evolution of ants, which were previously thought to have evolved in North America or Southeast Asia. Because no ant fossils had been found Africa before, paleontologists thought that ants were more recent (geologically speaking) introductions to the continent.

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