Scientists turn ancient cockroach fossil into 3-D model


London : An early cockroach ancestor that lived around 300 million years ago was unveiled in unprecedented detail here in a new 3-D ‘virtual fossil’ model.

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Scientists at Imperial College London (ICL) made a comprehensive 3D model of a fossilised specimen called Archimylacris eggintoni, which is an ancient ancestor of modern cockroaches and termites.

This insect scuttled around on earth during the Carboniferous period 359-299 million years ago, which was a time when life had recently emerged from the oceans to live on land.

The study reveals for the first time how Archimylacris eggintoni’s physical traits helped it to thrive on the floor of earth’s early forests. The fossils of these creatures are normally between 2 cm and 9 cm long and about 4 cm in width.

Russell Garwood, an ICL docotoral student, says: “The Carboniferous period is sometimes referred to as the age of the cockroach because fossils of Archimylacris eggintoni and its relatives are amongst the most common insects from this time period. They are found all over the world.

“People joke about it being impossible to kill cockroaches and our 3D model almost brings this one back to life. We can see how Archimylacris eggintoni’s limbs were well adapted for all terrains, as it was not only adept in the air but also very agile on the ground.”

The researchers created their images using a CT scanning device, based at the Natural History Museum in London, which enabled them to take 3142 x-rays of the fossil and compile the images into an accurate 3D model, creating a ‘virtual fossil’ of the creature, using specially designed computer software.

The scientists used the models to visualise the Archimylacris eggintoni’s legs, antennae, mouth parts and body, which had never been seen by human eyes before, said an ICL release.

Scientists had previously known that Archimylacris eggintoni had wings, which suggested the bug could fly. However, very few limbs of this species – or other roach-like insects from this era – have been preserved in fossils, making it hard for scientists to glean insights into their way of life.

The research was published in Biology Letters.