Scientists call fossil killer bug private parts as ‘rare cure’

Found in Colorado, this fossil is now a species called Aphelicophontes danjuddi. A small beetle also appears with a large killer bug.

Daniel Swanson / Palaeontological Association

Perhaps the phrase should be “taking a nap as a bug in rock”.

University of Illinois Entomology graduate student Daniel Swanson was able to see intimate details of the genitalia of a killer bug in a 50-year-old million fossil. The genital capsule is as small as a grain of rice, but it reveals its secrets after this time.

“Seeing these fine structures in the internal genitalia is a rare treat,” Swanson said in a statement from the University of Illinois on Tuesday. “Generally, we only get this level of detail in species that survive today.”

A lot of scientific bugs can learn from private parts, which can help determine if the insect is a previously unknown species. This extinct specimen represents a new species of predatory insect, and the discovery helps extend the history of banded killer insects to 25 million years.

“About 7,000 species of the killer bug have been described, but only 50 fossils of these insects are known,” Swanson said. “It speaks for the impossibility of being just a fossil, let alone in this age, which provides so much information to it.”

The fossil bug had considerable travel. It was found in 2006 in an area called the Green River Formation in modern Colorado. The fossil was split cleanly in half and sold by a dealer to two different collectors. The researchers hunted two pieces to conduct the study of the insect.

One of the collectors, Dan Judd, donated his side of the bug to the Illinois Natural History Survey, which worked on the study, and received considerable tribute in return. The research team named the new species “Apelicophones danzudi.”

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