Is the 87-million-year-old praying mantis recently found encased in amber in Japan a “missing link” between mantises from the Cretaceous period and modern-day insects?
It is a rare find indeed and its true significance is still to be deciphered.
Discovered in January of this year by Kazuhisa Sasaki, director of the Kuji Amber Museum, the fossil mantis measures 0.5 inch (1.4 centimeters) from its antennae to the tip of its abdomen.
It was found buried more than six feet below the surface of an amber mine in a part of Japan that is famous for producing large amounts of amber, the northeastern Iwate Prefecture.
“I found it in a deposit that had lots of other insects (ancient flies, bees, and cockroaches) but this was the only praying mantis” said Sasaki.
The fossil mantis is partially well preserved, although its wings and abdomen are badly crushed.
According to Kyoichiro Ueda, executive curator of the Kitakyushu Museum of Natural History, it is the oldest mantis fossil ever found in Japan and only one of seven in the entire world from the Cretaceous Period.
Even more unique is the fact that this mantis is different from the other six, in that it has two spines protruding from its femur and it has mysterious, tiny hairs on its forelegs.
No mantis from this particular time period has ever been found with spines, although modern mantises have five or six on their forelegs, which help them catch prey.
“The years of the late Cretaceous period were a kind of transition phase between the ancient and modern worlds, and this fossil displays many intermediate elements between the two eras” said Ueda.
Time alone will reveal the significance of this important find.