Hiding above the dinosaurs

The early bin at PNAS has a cool, short paper by Yongjie Wang and colleagues, which matches a ginkgo tree with its insect mimic Wang:mimicry:2012. The cool part is that both of them lived during the Jurassic. I’m quoting a passage from the discussion that adds some more context to the fossils in this case:

This association joins a previously published instance of leaf mimesis from the same deposit by another group of insects, the Neuroptera, whereby two species of saucrosmyline lacewings were mimetic, although only their forewings resembled particular cycadophyte leaves (9). The association of J. ginkgofolia and the Ginkgoitesleaves of Y. capituliformis considerably extend this phenomenon. More importantly, it adds a more finely tuned example of leaf mimesis wherein the entire insect body participates in the de- ception. This mimicry would necessitate a quantum increase in the coordination and integration of somatic development to achieve replication of a leaf model in size, shape, surface texture, and probably behavioral control of motion, sufficient to either deceive a potential predator or prey item. This similarity only could occur during an interval wherein the multilobed ginkgoa- lean leaf (the model) was present in sufficient numbers to con- tinue the deception. In any event, Y. capituliformis became extinct during the JurassicCretaceous boundary (19), as possibly did its mimic, J. ginkgofolia, significantly before the initial appearance of angiosperms during the mid Early Cretaceous. The interpretations of these two different examples of leaf mimesis can provide unusual insight (2, 16) into a preangiospermous world of elevated counterdefensive plantinsect associations such as leaf mimesis.

The artist’s reconstruction of the mimic insect upon a prehistoric ginkgo branch is one of the coolest pieces of paleoart I’ve seen. I hope they don’t mind me spreading this, it’s a wonderful image:

Hangingfly mimic of Jurassic ginkgo, artist's reconstruction, from Wang et al. 2012

Figure 3G from Wang et al. 2012. Original caption: "(G) Artists reconstruction of J. ginkgofolia mimetic on Ginkgoites leaves of Y. capituliformis."

Breathtaking. As the text above indicates, this isn’t the only known mimic from the same formation, but it is truly interesting to see this kind of association long before the intricate insect-plant mutualistic relationships that accompanied the rise of the angiosperm plants.