If I had to pick the single most exciting entomological discovery this year, it’d be the finding that Treehopper (Membracidae) ornamentation appears to be homologous to wings.
Treehoppers have somehow resuscitated parts of the wing developmental program on a body part that insects hadn’t sported wings on for over 250 million years. And then they made wonderful, wonderful things from them:
That treehoppers are visually stunning isn’t news. The fact that what we all thought was a simple extension of the main body are actually novel appendages is why we here at Myrmecos headquarters are all jumping up and down with glee. This not only explains the ornaments of treehoppers but gives us deeper insight about how evolutionary novelty arises.
What’s more, the paper is rather solid by Nature’s standards. The authors accumulated different lines of evidence over several years. Their docket includes both careful morphological documentation of an appendage-like attachment of the ornaments and developmental studies showing the activation of wing-related genes.
I’m late to the blogging party on this story, so I’ll spare you more details. But, I fully expect Prud’homme et al to become a classic paper in the field of insect evolution. It’s that good.
source: Prud’homme, B. et al. 2011. Body plan innovation in treehoppers through the evolution of an extra wing-like appendage. Nature 473, 83–86. doi:10.1038/nature09977