Wealden Insects: An artist’s impression (Part 3)

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Biddy Jarzembowski, Neil Watson and Ed Jarzembowski (UK)

This is the third part of the mini-series in which selected Early Cretaceous insects from the Wealden of Southern England are restored in colour for the first time. The aim is to give a visual idea of the variety of British insect life some 130mya at the height of the ‘Age of Dinosaurs’. There are some notable absentees like butterflies, ants and bees – these had yet to evolve. Some insect groups are no longer found in the UK, such as termites, archaic beetles and silky lacewings. New insect species, including the first Wealden earwigs, have been collected during the geologically short time during which the figures were painted. Hopefully, these will appear in future issues.

Fig. 14. A rare stonefly nymph or larva belonging to an extinct genus and species, Ecdyoperla fairlightensis Sinitshenkova, from the Hastings Group. Unlike in Asia, stoneflies are little known from the Early Cretaceous of Northwest Europe because of water quality issues – they prefer cool, upland streams not often found in the geological record. This species is based on a find made by collectors associated with the infamous Piltdown Hoax, but appears to be quite genuine. The restoration is inspired by recent Megarcys and some of the quartz pebbles are coated with algae.
Fig. 15. A distinctive cockroach belonging to an extinct genus and species, Elisama molossa (Westwood). from the Weald Clay – but also found in the Purbeck Limestone Group. The colours were inspired by the modern German, Oriental and Giant cockroaches, although the pair of eyespots on the forewings is highlighted because it’s characteristic of this species: our native cockroaches are less conspicuous nowadays.
Fig. 16. An unnamed species of extinct lophioneurid insect thought to be related to modern thrips. This restoration is based on a nearly complete specimen from the Purbeck Limestone Group and is shown sitting on a leaf of the plant Bevhalstia pebja Hill from the Weald Clay. The colouration is based mainly on the Western Flower, Avocado and Onion thrips – with a touch of aphid red.
Fig. 17. A silky lacewing resting on bark, and belonging to an extinct genus and species, Psychopsites rolandi Jepson, Makarkin and Jarzembowski, from the Weald Clay. It is related to Kalligramma roycrowsoni Jarzembowski illustrated in Part I (Fig. 4). It is, however, less striking with disruptive stripes instead of eyespots preserved on the wings to help protect it from vertebrate predators in life. The colour was suggested by species of the modern lacewings, Nemoptera and Sisyra, which are also striped.
Fig. 18. An unnamed click beetle from the Weald Clay currently being studied by Evgeny Yan in Moscow. Beetles are the most difficult group to identify precisely from the Early Cretaceous (especially if only known from head shields and wing cases), because they are the most diverse organisms on Earth. The ‘earthy’ colouration of this distinctive form was inspired by species of the modern genera, Malalcahuello, Prosternon and Dolopius. An example of an archaic beetle (which was easier to identify) is illustrated in Part 1 (Fig. 5).

While based on actual fossils, the restorations are only intended as models, which may be corrected and modified as new information is unearthed. We thank Fred Clouter (Minster) and Pete Austen (Seaford) for help with imaging; for illustrations of fossil insects (mainly two colour) see:

  • Chapters 13 and 14 in:  Batten, D. J. (ed.). 2011. English Wealden Fossils. Palaeontological Association Field Guide to Fossils, 14.
  • Jarzembowski, E. A. 1984. Early Cretaceous insects from southern England. Modem Geology, London 9: 71‑93, pls I‑IV.
Other articles in this series comprise:
Wealden insects: An artist’s impression (Part 1)
Wealden insects: An artist’s impression (Part 2)
Wealden insects: An artist’s impression (Part 3)
Wealden insects: An artist’s update (Part 4)

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