Giant predatory ancient insects pioneered mobile comms 310,000,000 years ago

Scientists have discovered fossilised insect wings which suggest the flying creatures they belong to may have been communicating 310 million years ago – 50 million years before the first known insect comms.

Discovered in Liévin, France, the fossils offer the earliest known evidence of wing-based communication in insects and suggest bugs may have been using their wings to broadcast information since the Late Carboniferous period, around 310 million years ago.

André Nel, professor at the Muséum national d’Histoire naturelle in Paris, and his team found the fossil belonging to a previously unidentified species of giant predatory grasshopper-like insects called Titanoptera – the largest of which had wingspans of more than 33cm. The team called the new find Theiatitan Azari, in tribute to Theia, the Greek Titan goddess of light.

Analysis of the shape and structure of the long-dead creature’s wing compared to modern insects suggests that these panels may have allowed T. azari to communicate by reflecting light or producing crackling noises.

“Whether these communication systems were used to attract sexual partners and/or escape predators remain to be demonstrated,” the paper, published in Nature Communications Biology, said.

While both hypotheses are possible, “predators like the Titanoptera, communicating to gain insight on female receptivity and avoid being considered as a potential prey could even have been vital.”

Whatever the explanation, the authors said the discovery shows that sound and/or light communication is “a very old phenomenon,” around 50 million years older than previous evidence suggested.

“These types of communication with the wings have evolved numerous times,” the paper said. “Those multiple origins suggest that wing-based communication has been an important and innovative factor in the establishment of the deep past biodiversity.” ®

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