The Zorapterans AKA Angel Insects

An obscure and tiny group of insects (only about 30 known species), the order Zoraptera was described in 1913. These insects are quite small, measuring no more than 3-4 mm (0.1”). Found in damp, rotting wood, sawdust and leaf litter, they are most abundant in the tropical and subtropical areas of the world. Once thought to be absent from Australia and Europe, these strange insects are turning up in many new places, including the nests of some termites and mammals. The ordinal name Zoraptera is derived from the Greek words "zor", meaning pure, and "aptera", meaning wingless. The name was given before winged forms were discovered. These winged individuals are rather uncommon and may be dispersal forms. Zorapteran wings break off easily, near the base, leaving only stubs. It is thought that Zorapterans evolved from primitive orthopterans and share an ancestry with ancient cockroaches. Others see them as relatives of the termites (Isoptera) since they can voluntarily shed their wings. Some entomologists believe they may represent an evolutionary link between the orthopteroids and the hemipteroids (particularly Psocoptera). Much research needs to be done, for little is known about them. They live in small aggregations but do not appear to have any social structure. They have biting mouthparts and scavenge on spores, fungal mycelium and/or mites and other small arthropods. Fossil Zoraptera are very hard to come by. Four species, representing both alate and apterous forms, were recently found preserved in Cretaceous amber from Myanmar (Burma). These are the first fossil records of the order from the Old World and also the oldest known so far, dating to about 100-90 million years ago. Prior to this discovery, fossil Zoraptera specimens were known only from two species dating to the Miocene, found in amber from the Dominican Republic.

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