Froghopper from Montana

Our team collected many interesting new fossils during fieldwork in Montana last month. Here team member Susan McIntyre poses with a beautifully preserved spittlebug wing she discovered at one of the excavation sites in the Oligocene Renova Formation.

Spittlebugs (also called froghoppers) are insects of the superfamily Cercopoidea (order Hemiptera). They feed by sucking juices from plants through their straw-like mouthparts and are capable of jumping impressive distances. Their common name comes from their habit of surrounding themselves in protective froth as nymphs.

New study reveals evolutionary patterns of grasshoppers, crickets, and katydids over the past 300 million years

INHS orthopterist and paleontologist Sam Heads was co-author on a recently published study determining the evolutionary relationships of the grasshoppers, katydids, and crickets. The current study is based on genetics rather than morphological characteristics.

The Origin of Grasshoppers, Katydids, and Crickets: A New Study Resolves the Evolutionary Tree of the Orthoptera

Decades-old amber collection offers new views of an ancient world

Illinois Natural History Survey paleontologist Sam Heads, left, and laboratory technician Jared Thomas are screening 160 pounds of amber collected in the Dominican Republic in the late 1950s. Photo by L. Brian Stauffer

INHS Paleontologist Sam Heads, Jared Thomas, and Yinan Wang found a new pygmy locust embedded in amber. In a paper released today, the species was described and named Electrotettix attenboroughi, in honor of Sir David Attenborough. Attenborough narrated a video about their research. To find out more, read this article by the U of I News Bureau.

INHS entomologists comment on fossil stick insects

Following the discovery of fossil stick insects by a team of Chinese and French scientists, INHS Paleontologist Sam Heads and Illinois State Entomologist Chris Dietrich were contacted by National Geographic to comment. Heads told National Geographic that the discovery of fossilized plant mimicking insects, “is yet more tantalizing evidence of early insect-plant coevolution.”

Ancient ‘fig wasp’ lived tens of millions of years before figs

INHS Paleontologist Sam Heads found an ancient fig wasp that pre-dates any known fig trees. According to Heads, “This is a tiny parasitic wasp, it’s the smallest fossil wasp found in this particular deposit and it’s the oldest representative of its family. More importantly, it’s possible that this wasp was fig-associated, which is interesting because it’s Early Cretaceous, about 115 to 120 million years old. That’s a good 65 million years or so prior to the first occurrence of figs in the fossil record.”