It has been found that these insects have been masters of disguise for over 100 million years. But it is not possible that the insects' camouflage outfits can protect them from every fate as some of them walked or fell into sticky tree resin wearing their self-selected suits.
With the passage of time, that sticky goop hardened and fossilized into amber, freezing the debris-laden insects in time.
The scientists were fortunate as amber fossils preserve the little bits of plant matter, insects' exoskeletons, dirt, and other minuscule particles that other preservation processes do not. So Bo Wang and his colleagues got their hand over these chunks of amber, they were able to get a detailed snapshot of the camouflaging insects in action, millions of years later.
"Reconstructing the behavior of ancient animals is a challenge to paleontologists because ephemeral events are hardly preserved in the rock," Dr. Wang of the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Nanjing explains in an email to The Christian Science Monitor. "But occasionally few fossils document particular behaviors directly. We have some direct evidence of debris-carrying behavior; some fossils are carrying some debris on their back, which are trapped in amber."
Wang and his colleagues hunted through more than 300,000 amber specimens from Myanmar, China, France, and Lebanon. They were in search of insects displaying debris-carrying behavior.