The splay-footed cricket is one of the biggest, most scary-looking insects, and it's been that way for a long, long time. A fossil recently uncovered in Brazil reveals these crickets have looked more or less exactly the same since the time of the dinosaurs. Clearly, these insects don't adapt - they make the world adapt to them.
Nowadays, these crickets can be found in southern Asia, the northern regions of the Indochina peninsula, and parts of Africa. Researchers have just uncovered a fossil in Brazil that dates back 100 million years. Technically speaking, it's not the same species as the modern splay-footed cricket, but it's of the same genus, and it's more or less identical.
It's so similar that lead researcher Sam Heads says these insects have been in "evolutionary stasis" since the early Cretaceous period, a time spanning over 100 million years. Just to put that in perspective, anatomically modern humans have only been around for 200,000 years, and the vast majority of species won't stay effectively unchanged for much more than a few million years.
So how have these crickets stayed in stasis for so impossibly long? It seems that the crickets have been exceptionally good at locating and remaining in the same basic environment, which Heads describes as "an arid or semi-arid monsoonal environment." Then, through some combination of good luck or strategic migration, these crickets have stayed in the exact same ecological niche for a hundred million years. However they did it, it's an absolutely incredible feat.
But what exactly are these insects, other than the stuff of nightmares? Entomologist Sam Heads explains:
"Schizodactylidae, or splay-footed crickets, are an unusual group of large, fearsome-looking predatory insects related to the true crickets, katydids and grasshoppers, in the order Orthoptera. They get their common name from the large, paddle-like projections on their feet, which help support their large bodies as they move around their sandy habitats, hunting down prey."
Via ZooKeys. Photo by Hwaja Goetz.