Scientists used genetic data, and genetic mapping techniques to put together one of the most impressive family trees one could fathom. The tree traced back almost 500 million years, and made a lot of clarifications when it came to major insect groups. In all, 1,478 genes that were from 144 species, which covered all major insect groups were analyzed. Ultimately, all of this information was being used to work toward understanding how they evolved, how they diversified across the planet, and how they became what is now known as the Earth’s single largest, and most expansive animal group.
The study was so important because insects actually make up “two-thirds of all known animal species,” according to Bernhard Misof of the Zoological Research Museum Alexander Koenig, located in Germany. He went on to note that insects play a vital role in ecosystems across the globe because of how they interact with plants, as well as humans.
The first insects were found on earth right around the same time as the first land plants were found, according to the scientist who estimated that this took place about 480 million years ago. However, scientists noted that, this date, was nearly 70 million years earlier than the first insect fossil, or the oldest-known insect fossil.
The first insect’s scientists believe evolved from a group of venomous crustaceans called remipedia. They went on to point out that those first insects were likely feeding on very trace amounts of plants that were found on land. Misof went on to point out that “We have absolutely no clue of how the first terrestrial insects might have looked, but somehow they must have resembled an animal with crustacean and insect features.”
The scientists went on to note that the first winged-insects likely came about 400 million years ago. That is a whopping 200 million years before any other organism on Earth acquired wings, and something scientists previously were unable to determine for certain. Currently, the oldest wing fossil that scientists have identified is one that is roughly 340 million years old.
However, the scientists were quick to also note that the diversity we see today in insects was something that wasn’t necessarily seen regularly then. Cockroaches and termites for example, likely evolved during the aftermath of one of the most extreme extinctions in Earth’s history which took place 252 million years ago. The mass-extinction wiped out massive populations of land and sea creatures.