A 47-million-year-old ‘leaf insect’ has been discovered for the first time. To add to the achievement and the scientists’ surprises, the prehistoric leaf-imitating insect strikingly resembles the mimickers of today!
The first leaf-insect fossil — Eophyllium messelensis — clearly reveals that leaf imitation is an ancient and successful evolutionary strategy and has been conserved over fairly a long period of time.
The remains of the 2.4-inch-long insect, unearthed by scientists led by Sonja Wedmann of the Institute of Paleontology in Bonn, Germany, at a well-known fossil site called Messel, in Hessen, Germany, had physical characteristics similar to the oblong leaves of trees living there at that period! The trees, the insect resembles, are Myrtle trees, legumes, such as alfalfa, and Laurel trees.
Interestingly, the fossilized insect also shared features with modern insect relatives in all size, shape, and even the designs used for camouflage, as for example, the fossil had foliage-like extensions from its abdomen.
To hide from overhead predators, a leaf insect can stay still for long periods of time during the day. To strengthen the leafy appearance, it tucked its head into its body. And at night, to protect themselves from the nocturnal insects, they rock back and forth to mimic a leaf fluttering in the wind.