For more than a hundred million years, these three male damselflies have been waiting for their damsels.
Mating in modern damselflies and their close kin, the dragonflies, has been
The ancient insects, named Yijenplatycnemis huangi, is larger than today's damselflies and is characterized by protruding structures on its legs adorned with eye-shaped markings. The large eye-shaped spots on Y. huangi's legs could have been used as a defense mechanism, intimidating predators or deflecting an attack on the damselfly's wings.
But Zheng Daran and Wang Bo from the Nanjing Institute of Geology and Paleontology at the Chinese Academy of Sciences instead think that the ornate legs were used to attract a female's attention. Damselflies have advanced eyesight, and the showy spots would have made the males easier to notice, increasing opportunities to mate.
Today, some male damselflies wave their legs at females as part of their courtship behavior, although their displays are far less flashy.
Melissa Sanchez Herrera, a National Geographic grantee and dragonfly expert, theorizes that the Cretaceous insect's larger leg structures could have been lost over time because the males were attracting the wrong kind of attention: Predators could have also easily spotted such an elaborate prehistoric mating dance.
In addition, the large legs would have made flying slower and less efficient for the showy males.
Whatever the reason for the change, Sanchez Herrera believes the amber-trapped insect is an incredible find, since it gives scientists a chance to study the evolution of different body plans in ancient and modern damselflies.