Wildlife & Wild Places

Oldest Fossil of Mating Insects Found; Sex Positions Haven’t Changed

A holotype male, on the right, and allotype female, on the left.
Photograph by Li S, Shih C, Wang C, Pang H, Ren D

You could call it everlasting love: Scientists have discovered the oldest fossil of mating insects, which lived during the Jurassic period.

A pair of unlucky froghoppers were caught in the act in what’s now northeastern China and preserved in stone over 165 million years ago. Froghoppers are a type of small insect named for their tendency to hop around plants like tiny frogs.

Fossils of mating insects are rare, which creates challenges for scientists studying the evolution of mating position and how genitalia are oriented in insects. (See video: National Geographic’s “Mating Moments.“)

For example, the amorous pair was mating in a belly-to-belly position, much like modern froghoppers mate. This suggests that froghoppers’ mating position and genital symmetry have remain largely unchanged for over 165 million years, according to the study, published November 6 in the journal PLOS ONE.

The remarkably well-preserved fossil also reveals the male’s reproductive organ inserting into the female, and the position of the male’s body segments suggest he was twisting and flexing during sex. (Also see “Mating Turtles Fossilized in the Act.”)

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Mary Bates is a freelance science writer living in Boston. She has a PhD in psychology from Brown University where she studied bat echolocation. You can visit her website at www.marybateswriter.com and follow her on Twitter at @mebwriter.
  • Brad Leutwyler

    In the timeless words of that wise philosopher M.C. Hammer, “Can’t touch this.”

  • Brad Leutwyler

    In the timeless words of that wise philosopher M.C. Hammer, “Can’t touch this.”

  • James Stout

    It is necessary to mention “sex” positions? Many will read your science report without it. Or are we that desperate?

  • James Stout

    It is necessary to mention “sex” positions? Many will read your science report without it. Or are we that desperate?

  • Jeremy

    James – Stop being so sensitive. That information is valuable to scientists & is the whole point of the article. Why does the sexual position of a 165M year old pair of flies offend you? Would you feel better if they included verbiage that the flies were monogamous, married & Christian?

  • Jeremy

    James – Stop being so sensitive. That information is valuable to scientists & is the whole point of the article. Why does the sexual position of a 165M year old pair of flies offend you? Would you feel better if they included verbiage that the flies were monogamous, married & Christian?

  • Chucks

    James- What’s your problem with describing it as sex positions? That’s exactly what the article is about. And why do you put sex in quotes, when it’s clear that insects have sex?

  • True American Patriot

    We all know the earth was made roughly 6,000 years ago so this is all a mute point.

  • True American Patriot

    We all know the earth was made roughly 6,000 years ago so this is all a mute point.

  • Chris Hyman

    It’s just as well that they died while mating . . . I’ll bet he had no intentions of calling her the next day . . . .

  • Chris Hyman

    It’s just as well that they died while mating . . . I’ll bet he had no intentions of calling her the next day . . . .

  • Christine Dell’Amore

    Enjoying these comments everyone!

  • Christine Dell’Amore

    Enjoying these comments everyone!

  • Chris Hyman

    Ummm . . . er. . .yeh . . . sorry about the less-than-highly- scientific nature of the comments . . . it’s just so rare we get a break in the day of this nature . . . one involving insect-porn no less.

  • Chris Hyman

    Ummm . . . er. . .yeh . . . sorry about the less-than-highly- scientific nature of the comments . . . it’s just so rare we get a break in the day of this nature . . . one involving insect-porn no less.

  • Benjamin T.A

    Do the frog hoppers perform cannibalism like the praying mantis?

  • Benjamin T.A

    Do the frog hoppers perform cannibalism like the praying mantis?

  • Michael Henry

    True American Patriot – First of all, “mute” point? I think you mean “moot” point. However, since you believe the Earth was made 6000 years ago, we can forgive you for your grammatical errors. If you’re smarter than educated people who properly employ the scientific method and are scrutinized by peer review, please research the concept of “Created Antiquity” which, if true, means that God is deceptive. Since I’m sure that you will agree that God cannot be, by definition, deceptive, then you may realize how frustrating it is to not be as smart as you think you are.

  • Michael Henry

    True American Patriot – First of all, “mute” point? I think you mean “moot” point. However, since you believe the Earth was made 6000 years ago, we can forgive you for your grammatical errors. If you’re smarter than educated people who properly employ the scientific method and are scrutinized by peer review, please research the concept of “Created Antiquity” which, if true, means that God is deceptive. Since I’m sure that you will agree that God cannot be, by definition, deceptive, then you may realize how frustrating it is to not be as smart as you think you are.

  • zzeus

    No change over millennia: how reassuring…
    And how much money is being wasted on this crap?!

  • zzeus

    No change over millennia: how reassuring…
    And how much money is being wasted on this crap?!

  • Chris Hyman

    @ Michael
    I think True Patriot was being facetious (or maybe fecetious), and he might well have meant it was indeed a ‘mute’ point . . . since the point itself said nothing, really . . . (don’t you wish I were a ‘mute’ reader . . . or is that moot at this point?)
    @ James
    Perhaps you were kidding too . . . so does it become even more ‘deserate’ if I say I’m impressed by the prominently displayed aedeagus in a bursa copulatrix ?

  • Chris Hyman

    @ Michael
    I think True Patriot was being facetious (or maybe fecetious), and he might well have meant it was indeed a ‘mute’ point . . . since the point itself said nothing, really . . . (don’t you wish I were a ‘mute’ reader . . . or is that moot at this point?)
    @ James
    Perhaps you were kidding too . . . so does it become even more ‘deserate’ if I say I’m impressed by the prominently displayed aedeagus in a bursa copulatrix ?

  • Christine

    What caused these froghoppers to die so suddenly? Was it the big bang?

  • Christine

    What caused these froghoppers to die so suddenly? Was it the big bang?

  • Mike

    Reproductive parts of these two insects didnt decompose after 6m yrs?

  • Mike

    Reproductive parts of these two insects didnt decompose after 6m yrs?

  • gelacio

    Me gusta national gegrafic, y mas si es espanol ca…laveras

  • gelacio

    Me gusta national gegrafic, y mas si es espanol ca…laveras

  • Chris Hyman

    @Christine – Wonderful pun !!! Well done !! (. . . and just for the record, it is believed they died from poisonous gases released by a significant eruption . . . (uumm – volcanic one that is).

    @zzeus – Well, these were discovered in China, where much of the populace is educated enough to realize that money spent on scientific research, art, music, and other endeavors that don’t show an immediate profit isn’t ‘wasted’.

    @Mike – The reproductive organs fossilized, like the rest of the bodies. Once fossilized, they don’t decompose (other than by wear n’ tear, like any ‘rock’-like substance).

    @me&James – I meant to write ‘desperate’ . . . sorry.

  • Chris Hyman

    @Christine – Wonderful pun !!! Well done !! (. . . and just for the record, it is believed they died from poisonous gases released by a significant eruption . . . (uumm – volcanic one that is).

    @zzeus – Well, these were discovered in China, where much of the populace is educated enough to realize that money spent on scientific research, art, music, and other endeavors that don’t show an immediate profit isn’t ‘wasted’.

    @Mike – The reproductive organs fossilized, like the rest of the bodies. Once fossilized, they don’t decompose (other than by wear n’ tear, like any ‘rock’-like substance).

    @me&James – I meant to write ‘desperate’ . . . sorry.

  • Patrick J Smith

    I Recall N Remember Her… We became Stuck To N On each other… From our Sticky Ectoplasm… Like a Couple of Prehistoric Sized Mating Lightening Bugs and or Fire Flies… Flying around while Stuck together… Landing on a Palm… Blinking Away etc… When the END OF THE WORLD Happened… Trust Me 72 Million Years Ago when Old Scratch The Devil aka SUE/SUMAC The T-Rex DINOSAUR along with all this Other all went Extinct!!!!!!!!

  • nina wade

    that’s special!

  • nina wade

    that’s special!

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