Scientists who surveyed more than 1,500 ancient fossilized fly dummies have discovered four species of wasps that used these growing insects as home to their own babies.
Sophisticated scans of the fossils that make up about 66 to 23 million Palaeogens Years ago, numerous invasive wasps were revealed in fly dummies. The creatures would have deprived the growing flies of nutrients as they developed in their hosts.
When maggots develop into flies, they wrap themselves in a cocoon-like bundle. Safely inside, their bodies evolve from tiny worms to complex winged creatures. This developmental phase is called the pupal stage.
Eventually, they emerge from their dollhouse as adult flies, just as a butterfly comes out of a doll. But in 55 of the cases studied by scientists in the journal Nature Communications invasive wasps got in the way. Female researchers assumed that they had punctured the dolls and put eggs in it so that the baby wasps could develop and feed their fledglings.
Imaging showed the old smuggled cargo in amazing detail. Although the dolls are only about the size of a grain of rice, you can clearly see the developing wasps up to the hairs on their bodies.
Researchers named the four newly discovered species Xenomorphia resurrecta Xenomorphia handschini Coptera anka and Palaeortona quercyensis .
If you are a film fan, some of them may seem familiar. Xenomorph is the name of the bloodthirsty creatures who hunt terraforming space explorers in the Alien movies. Cuttlefish-like facial aspirants infect xenomorph progeny into living human hosts. The aliens give birth as parasites until they overgrow their feeble hosts and tear themselves out through the breasts of their victims.
It is incredibly rare to find a fossilized parasite in its host, so researchers did not believe it was such would find big booty. "We did not really expect to find these parasites inside," said study author Thomas van de Kamp of the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology in Germany, National Geographic . He became impatient when the first fossils were fruitless: "I was a little bored," he told the publication.
But the tenth fossil sample revealed a blind wasp. "It was absolutely clear," he said. "It really looked me in the eye through the screen."
The researchers hope that the sophisticated imaging technology that unveils these smuggled creatures reveals further hidden secrets while preserving the integrity of ancient fossils.