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Reconstructing the ecology of a Cretaceous cockroach: destructive and high-resolution imaging of its micro sensory organs

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Animals highly depend on their sensory organs to detect information about their surrounding environment. Among animal sensory organs, those of insects have a notable ability to detect information despite their small size, which might be, therefore, one of the reasons for the evolutionary success of insects. However, insect sensory organs are seldom fossilized in sediments due to their small size and fragility. A potential solution for this problem is the study of exceptionally well-preserved fossil material from amber. Unfortunately, the resolution of existing non-destructive analysis is insufficient to observe details of these micro sensory organs even with amber preservation. Here, we focus on the analysis of the micro sensory organs of an extinct male cockroach (Huablattula hui Qiu et al., 2019) in Cretaceous amber by combining destructive and non-destructive methods. Compared to extant species inhabiting dark environments, H. hui has relatively large compound eyes, and all the antennal sensilla for detecting multimodal information observed here are fewer or smaller. The characteristics of these sensory organs support the diurnality of the bright habitats of H. hui in contrast to many extant cockroaches. Like extant male mantises, grooved basiconic type sensilla exist abundantly on the antenna of the fossilized specimen. The abundance of grooved basiconic sensilla in mantid males results from using sex pheromones, and therefore, H. hui may have likewise used mantis-like intersexual communication. These lines of evidence suggest that the ecology and behavior of Cretaceous cockroaches were more diverse than those of related extant species.

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Data availability

The fossil materials are deposited in the American Museum of Natural History under the assigned number AMNH Bu-SY28. The micro-CT slice images are available from the Figshare Data Repository:


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We thank Dr. Jörg Mutterlose (Ruhr Univ. Bochum) for proofreading the article; Kosuke Tateishi (Fukuoka Univ.) for helpful comment in discussion; Dr. Yoshifumi Yamawaki (Kyushu Univ.) for providing the extant mantis material; Dr. David A. Grimaldi (the American Museum of Natural History) for curating the fossil specimen; Kosuke Nakamura (Hokkaido Univ.) for preparing the thin section; and Kentaro Kobayashi (Nikon Imaging Center) and Noritaka Saito (Tomakomai Industrial Technology Center) for assistance with LSCM and X-ray CT analysis, respectively.


This work was supported by the Kuribayashi Scholarship and Academic Foundation (2020–2-6) to R. T., the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science (JP20J00159) to S. Y., and the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science (19H02010) and the Canon Foundation (2019–4) to Y. I.

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R. T. and Y. I. designed the study. R. T. prepared and photographed the fossil material. H. W. obtained the images of the extant materials. R. T., H. N., and H. W. discussed the results. R. T. drafted the manuscript, to which H. N., H. W., S. Y., and Y. I. contributed to writing and editing. All authors gave final approval for publication and agree to be held accountable for the content therein.

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Correspondence to Ryo Taniguchi.

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The authors declare no competing interests.

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Communicated by: Dany Azar

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Taniguchi, R., Nishino, H., Watanabe, H. et al. Reconstructing the ecology of a Cretaceous cockroach: destructive and high-resolution imaging of its micro sensory organs. Sci Nat 108, 45 (2021).

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