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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. Aug 6, 1996; 93(16): 8470–8474.

A Carboniferous insect gall: insight into early ecologic history of the Holometabola.


Although the prevalence or even occurrence of insect herbivory during the Late Carboniferous (Pennsylvanian) has been questioned, we present the earliest-known ecologic evidence showing that by Late Pennsylvanian times (302 million years ago) a larva of the Holometabola was galling the internal tissue of Psaronius tree-fern fronds. Several diagnostic cellular and histological features of these petiole galls have been preserved in exquisite detail, including an excavated axial lumen filled with fecal pellets and comminuted frass, plant-produced response tissue surrounding the lumen, and specificity by the larval herbivore for a particular host species and tissue type. Whereas most suggestions over-whelmingly support the evolution of such intimate and reciprocal plant-insect interactions 175 million years later, we provide documentation that before the demise of Pennsylvanian age coal-swamp forests, a highly stereotyped life cycle was already established between an insect that was consuming internal plant tissue and a vascular plant host responding to that herbivory. This and related discoveries of insect herbivore consumption of Psaronius tissues indicate that modern-style herbivores were established in Late Pennsylvanian coal-swamp forests.

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  • Panganiban G, Nagy L, Carroll SB. The role of the Distal-less gene in the development and evolution of insect limbs. Curr Biol. 1994 Aug 1;4(8):671–675. [PubMed]
  • Svácha P. What are and what are not imaginal discs: reevaluation of some basic concepts (Insecta, Holometabola). Dev Biol. 1992 Nov;154(1):101–117. [PubMed]

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