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The latest find made in Teruel is a new type of fossil mantispid insect, published in the magazine Scientific Reports and discovered in a piece of amber extracted during an excavation that took place in 2010 in the Teruel town of Utrillas.
“Mantispids are extremely rare in the fossil record, especially in amber. This new fossil is key to understanding how the raptor legs evolved in this fascinating group of predatory insects highly specialized in hunting ", explains the paleobiologist of the Geominero Museum, Enrique Peñalver, one of the two co-authors of the study.
The fragmentary preservation of the fossil specimen contrasts with the good preservation of the raptor legs, which show a complex endowment of spines and other gripping structures, thus allowing for the first time a such detailed comparison between fossil and current mantispids.
"At Lower Cretaceous, the spines of the raptor legs of mantispids, at least those ofAragomantispa, they lacked the complex sensory organs of the current mantispids, formed by tiny cones at the tips of the spines ", says Ricardo Pérez de la Fuente, co-author of the publication and researcher at the Museum of Natural History of the University of Oxford.
A mantispid that hunts with its spines
Experts explain that, although at first glance it looks like a praying mantis and hunted similarly, it belongs to a very different group of insects. Mantispids are peculiar predatory insects that have spiny front legs that they use to hunt insects through sudden grabbing movements, also called raptors.
However, they are neuropteran insectsTherefore, they are not related to praying mantises, but to other insects such as lacewings or lion ants. Currently about 400 species are known worldwide, although only four inhabit the Iberian Peninsula.
Ricardo Pérez de la Fuente emphasizes: “It is the first time that a fossil mantispid has been found in the Iberian Peninsula, with which the discovery also reveals how mantispids have inhabited this region of the planet for at least more than 100 million years. , being since then the lethal scourge of their prey ”.
The new species,Aragomantispa lacerata, has been dedicated to Aragon and represents the oldest mantispid described in amber with about 105 million years. Curiously, an authentic praying mantis was discovered in this same site during the same excavation, published in 2016 and also dedicated to Aragon:Aragonimantis aenigma.
The piece of amber with the specimen of the new species, encapsulated in high-quality synthetic epoxy resin for its conservation, is added to the valuable paleontological heritage of Aragon and is deposited in the collection of the Fundación Conjunto Paleontológico de Teruel-Dinópolis.
“This new organism joins the collection of extinct life forms that Teruel amber shows us and undoubtedly participates in an outstanding way in our vision of the ecology of the Cretaceous forests, as it is a great predator in the small world of the insects, ”concludes Peñalver.