Today, insects are the most diverse group of animals on the planet. It’s well known that they’re ancient, but what’s the oldest insect ever discovered? What’s the oldest insect still living today?
Insects were one of the first land animals to evolve on earth. They appeared around 480 million years ago, as terrestrial plants evolved onto the scene. We’ll talk about the oldest insect discovered and some of the oldest living today.
What is an Insect?
Insects are animals that consume organic food matter, need to breathe oxygen, and reproduce. There are millions of different kinds of insects, and they make up 70% of identified species on the planet. They are the only winged invertebrates, and ecosystems rely on insects as pollinators, food sources, and decomposers.
Insects are arthropods, and all arthropods share certain characteristics. These characteristics are having pairs of legs with joints, the presence of an exoskeleton, and a segmented body. Insects, crustaceans, arachnids, and myriapods are all arthropods.
What makes an insect different than other arthropods is the number of segments it has in its body. Insects have three segmented parts: the abdomen, thorax, and head. Insects strictly have six legs, while other arthropods vary.
Keep reading to learn more about the oldest insect ever discovered!
What is the Oldest Fossilized Insect Ever Discovered?
The oldest fossilized insect ever discovered is the extinct Rhyniognatha hirsti. It lived approximately 400 million years ago during the Early Devonian period.
There is debate about whether this bug was a centipede or an insect. If it was an insect, there may have been unfossilized wings on the animal since its mouthparts resemble that of a modern mayfly.
It was discovered in Scotland on the Isle of Kerrera during the first part of the twentieth century. In 2004, scientists studied the fossil for the first time in about 80 years and discovered that it was much older than previously believed.
What is the Oldest Insect Ever discovered Still Living Today?
The oldest insect species still alive today are silverfish. They date to about 250 million years ago and were alive with the dinosaurs. A direct relative of theirs may be Rhyniognatha hirsti from 400 million years ago.
They’ve remained relatively unchanged for millions of years and probably look a lot like their ancient fossilized ancestor. They have always been wingless, as none of their ancestors ever evolved the ability to fly.
Their segments have a silver sheen to them. Silverfish are capable of regenerating lost antennae and scales. Their scales slough off easily, which allows them to evade predators.
Silverfish aren’t dangerous though they can cause fabric stains and contaminate food. They enjoy eating cereal, vegetables, grain, and sugar. These items must be stored in airtight containers if a silverfish infestation occurs.
They do not carry diseases that are harmful to people or pets. Moist areas out of direct sunlight attract these insects, so they’re often hiding in corners or basements.
What are the Oldest Flying Insects Still Living Today?
The oldest flying insects still living today are mayflies. A fossil around 300 million years old was found in Massachusetts, showing an impression of a mayfly that landed in the mud.
Self-propelled flying by insects didn’t fully evolve until around 90 million years ago. However, the wings on this mayfly show that some form of flight has been occurring with bugs for much longer than originally thought. There were also visible claws on this bug.
Mayflies are an ancient food source still eaten by some people. They have a high protein content, and they sometimes appear in huge swarms, making them an accessible food choice.
In the African Great Lakes region, the inhabitants surrounding Lake Malawi make kunga cakes out of mayflies. Mayflies create huge visible clouds over the lakes they swarm and are easy to catch. They’re then pressed into large cakes until most moisture is removed and the mass is baked.
What Insect Has the Longest Lifespan?
African termite queens have the longest lifespan of any insect. They live between 30 and 50 years. Termite queens stay busy and lay tens of thousands of eggs per day.
Termites practice eusociality which means they’re highly organized in various ways. They participate in joint childcare, multiple generations coexist, and labor is divided between different castes. Breeding only takes place between a very small amount of kings and queens.
When a king and queen find each other, they burrow underground to mate. They never resurface, and their termite mound starts around and above them. Their children become workers to tend to the queen and rear the eggs while the male sits nearby.
When a queen has expanded in size to accommodate the massive amounts of eggs she lays, she begins to sweat. Her workers keep her clean by licking these fluids away. When a termite queen is no longer productive, her workers lick all of the fats and fluids out of her body which causes her death.
How Old Was the Oldest Recorded Spider?
The oldest spider ever recorded was Number 16, which lived to the age of 43. She was a female trapdoor spider living on a Western Australia reserve. Before she was observed, scientists thought spiders of her type lived to a maximum of 25 years.
On October 31, 2016, a researcher checked Number 16. A spider wasp had compromised the silk plug that guarded its burrow, and the burrow itself was in shambles. Number 16 had been alive during a previous inspection 6 months earlier.
Trapdoor spiders earned their name based on how they hunt from their burrows. They create a hinged door or a plug that swings in front of the hole to their home. When an animal comes close enough, the spider springs from its burrow to grab its meal and drag it inside.
We hope you enjoyed this article and learned more about the oldest insects ever recorded!
More from A-Z Animals
The Featured Image
Thank you for reading! Have some feedback for us? Contact the AZ Animals editorial team.