- Researchers say find could be ‘missing link’ of the insect world
- Experts stunned to find insect had advanced brain
By DAMIEN GAYLE
PUBLISHED: 12:14 EST, 10 October 2012 | UPDATED: 12:31 EST, 10 October 2012
A 500million year old insect brain fossil is the oldest of its kind ever discovered by scientists.
Hailing the find a ‘transformative discovery’, experts said the 3in long fossil shows that insects evolved to have complex brains much earlier than previously thought.
The specimen, which was unearthed in Yunnan Province, China, provides a ‘missing link’ that sheds light on the evolutionary history of arthropods, the ancient ancestors of crustaceans, spiders and insects, researchers said.
A transformative discovery: This 3-inch long fossil shows that insects evolved to have complex brains much earlier than previously thought and could revolutionise our understanding of their evolution
The report’s author Nicholas Strausfeld, a neurobiologist at the University of Arizona, said: ‘No one expected such an advanced brain would have evolved so early in the history of multicellular animals.’
Embedded in mudstones deposited during the Cambrian period 520million years ago, the fossil belongs to the species Fuxianhuia protensa – an ancient ancestor of arthropods which is now extinct.
It is the oldest specimen of its kind to combine an advanced brain anatomy with a primitive body.
The discovery, which is reported in the October edition of the journal Nature, suggests insect brains evolved from a previously complex structure to a more simple one, rather than the other way round, researchers said.
The finding promises to revolutionise research into how insects evolved into the creatures we see today.
Until now scientists researching the evolution of insects have been split into two camps.
Some believe insects evolved from the same ancestor that gave rise to malacostracans, a group of crustaceans that include crabs and shrimp.
While others say they descended from a group of crustaceans called branchiopods, which include brine shrimp.
They have a simpler brain anatomy and were more widely regarded as the more likely ancestors of insects.
But the report’s authors say the groundbreaking finding indicates insects did in fact evolve from creatures that already had complex brains.