After a 49-million-year hiatus, a cockroach reappears in North America

Date:

Share post:

The cockroach in the genus Ectobius is a major textbook example of an invasive organism, and it is the most common cockroach inhabiting a large region from northernmost Europe to southernmost Africa.

After a 49-million-year hiatus, a cockroach reappears in North America
This is a 44-million-year-old Ectobius cockroach (Ectobius balticus)
from northern Europe [Credit: D. S. Shcherbakov]

Ectobius has a long fossil history in Europe, occurring in Baltic amber that is about 44 million-years old, and its lineage was believed to have been exclusively from the Old World. However, a shocking new discovery has uprooted that view. In fact, it now appears that Ectobius may have originated in the New World.

Four ancient Ectobius species were recently discovered in the 49-million-year-old Green River Formation near Rifle, Colorado in deposits that are about five million years older than the Baltic amber. However, these cockroaches soon became extinct in North America. The cause for the extinction of Ectobius in North America in the dim past is unknown, but it evidently survived in the Old World, and western Europe in particular.

After a 49-million-year hiatus, a cockroach reappears in North America
This is a 49-million-year-old Eocene Ectobius cockroach (Ectobius kohlsi)
from Colorado [Credit: Peter Vršanský]

“About 65 years ago, several entomologists in the northeastern United States noted that four species of Ectobius were present in North America,” said corresponding author Dr. Conrad Labandeira. “It was always assumed that these four newcomers were the first Ectobius species to have ever lived in North America. But the discovery in Colorado proves that their relatives were here nearly 50 million years ago.”

In many ways the history of Ectobius mirrors that of the biogeographic history of the horse. Horses occurred in the New World and became extinct during the late Pleistocene ecological crisis. Horses, attached to human habitation, were subsequently introduced to North America by early Spanish explorers about 11,000 years after their demise.

After a 49-million-year hiatus, a cockroach reappears in North America
A modern Ectobius cockroach (Ectobius vittiventris) from
northern Europe [Credit: Amada44, CC-BY-3.0]

The newly discovered species of Ectobius, specifically Ectobius kohlsi, are described in the January 2014 issue of Annals of the Entomological Society of America in an article called “Native Ectobius (Blattaria: Ectobiidae) From the Early Eocene Green River Formation of Colorado and Its Reintroduction to North America 49 Million Years Later.”

This particular species is named after David Kohls, who lives near Rifle, Colorado and has been an indefatigable collector of fossil insects and plants from the nearby Green River Formation. His collection of approximately 150,000 insects from 31,000 slabs of shale now constitutes the Kohls Green River Fossil Insect Collection, which is housed in the Smithsonian’s Department of Paleobiology.

Source: Entomological Society of America [January 06, 2014]

ADVERTISEMENT

spot_img

Related articles

Are forests of the future at risk?

Human disturbance negatively affects the pollination and seed dispersal of forest trees -- an effect that can be...

Protein sequenced from prehistoric mammoth

Researchers from the University of York and Manchester have successfully extracted protein from the bones of a 600,000...

Phallus-shaped obsidian tools discovered in Papua New Guinea

The distinctly phallic shape of a collection of recently discovered stone tools in Papua New Guinea suggests they...

Is the anthropocene a formal unit of geologic time scale?

In the March-April issue of GSA Today, Stanley Finney (California State University at Long Beach) and Lucy Edwards...

Tropical climate in the Antarctic: Palm trees once thrived on today’s icy coasts 52 million years ago

Given the predicted rise in global temperatures in the coming decades, climate scientists are particularly interested in warm...

Evolutionary biologists identify non-genetic source of species variability

An unspoken frustration for evolutionary biologists over the past 100 years, says Craig Albertson at the University of...

Woman finds Portuguese artifact in baby shark

A baby shark being prepared for lunch gave a family here a big surprise - an ancient artifact...

ISIS threatens to blow up historical walls of Nineveh

According to the Assyrian website www.ankawa.com, ISIS is planning to destroy the walls of Nineveh, the capital of...