Roughly fifty million years ago, fine-grained sediment covered and buried the animals that lived there and managed to preserve them in exquisite detail. "You can see every tiny feature down to the veins in their wings and the hairs on their legs," said Smith, who has been studying Green River fossils for more than 15 years.
For this study, the researchers examined fossils from a Green River site in Colorado, focusing on crickets and katydids, which have ears on their front legs, just below their knees.
The team scoured more than 500 museum drawers of Green River fossils for crickets and katydids with intact front legs, looking for evidence of ears. "You can just make them out with the naked eye," Plotnick said. "They look like the eye of a needle."
In crickets and katydids living today, the ear is a tiny oval cavity with a thin membrane stretched over it that vibrates in response to sound, much like our own eardrum.
The fossil ears measured half a millimeter in length, and were virtually identical in size, shape, and position to their modern counterparts.
The findings suggest that this group of insects evolved their supersensitive hearing long before bat predators came to be, the researchers say.
"Their bat-detecting abilities may have simply become apparent later," Smith said.
"The next step is to look for ears in other insect groups," she added.
|Contact: Robin Ann Smith|
National Evolutionary Synthesis Center (NESCent)