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Insect natural history traced

Nature volume 515, page 166 (13 November 2014) | Download Citation


Insects emerged some 480 million years ago, eventually becoming the most diverse animal group.

Details about the early evolution of the more than 900,000 known insect species are still contentious. Bernhard Misof at the Alexander Koenig Zoological Research Museum in Bonn, Germany, and his colleagues determined the evolutionary relationships of all 30 orders of insects by analysing fossil and molecular data. The first insects evolved in marine or coastal habitats and took to land at around the same time as plants appeared, some 440 million years ago. Flying insects appeared around 40 million years later, followed by a boom in insect diversity.

Image: Oliver Niehuis, ZFMK/Bonn

All the major lineages of insects that are alive today were in existence by about 375 million years ago, giving the animals plenty of time to diversify even more (pictured).

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