Holy Moly!

Sep 23, 2008

Quick! How long have insects inhabited this earth?

If you're taking a biology or an entomology course, you'll be asked that question on an exam. If you're attending the Entomological Society of America conference Nov. 16-20 in Reno, you probably already know that.

A good answer: 400 million years.

The world's oldest known insect fossil is 400 million years old. according to findings published Feb. 12, 2004 in the journal Nature.

The evidence: jaw fragments measuring less than one two-hundred-fiftieth of an inch across discovered in 1919 in chert (a partly translucent crystalline rock) in Rhynie, Scotland. Shortly after that, scientists moved the fragments to a drawer in the Natural History Museum in London.

Under high magnification, the miniscule fragments show sockets that form part of a "hingelike mechanism that clearly identifies them as mouth parts of a true insect," the New York Times wrote.

To think that insects existed at least 400 million years ago! Scientists earlier thought 300 million years ago. What's a few million years? Well, the fossil record suggests that insects were among the first animals to live on land. The first ancient animals to fly were undoubtedly insects (even before flying dinosaurs).

Scientists David Grimaldi, a curator of entomology at the American Museum of Natural History, New York, and Michael S. Engel, a paleoentomologist at the University of Kansas, said that when they first discovered the age of the fossil fragment they looked at each other and said "Holy moly!

It's been a long time since I've heard "Holy moly!" but then it's been a long time since insects have inhabited the earth.

Holy moly! 400 million years!


By Kathy Keatley Garvey
Author - Communications specialist

Attached Images:

A honey bee on sage. Fossil evidence indicates that the very first insects inhabited this earth 400 million years ago. Honey bees existed at least by 7000 B.C., per a primitive drawing in a cave wall in eastern Spain. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Honey bee on sage