This website requires JavaScript.
DOI: 10.1101/2023.05.22.541647

Extinct and extant termites reveal the fidelity of behavior fossilization in amber

N.Mizumoto S. Hellemans M. S. Engel T. Bourguignon A. Bucek
Fossils encompassing multiple individuals provide rare direct evidence of behavioral interactions among extinct organisms. However, the fossilization process can alter the spatial relationship between individuals and hinder behavioral reconstruction. Here, we report a Baltic amber inclusion preserving a female-male pair of the extinct termite species Electrotermes affinis. The head-to-abdomen contact in the fossilized pair resembles the tandem courtship behavior of extant termites, although their parallel body alignment differs from the linear alignment typical of tandem runs. To solve this inconsistency, we simulated the first stage of amber formation, the immobilization of captured organisms, by exposing living termite tandems to sticky surfaces. We found that the posture of the fossilized pair matches trapped tandems and differs from untrapped tandems. Thus, the fossilized pair likely is a tandem running pair, representing the first direct evidence of the mating behavior of extinct termites. Furthermore, by comparing the positions of partners on a sticky surface and in the amber inclusion, we estimated to 67% the probability that the leader role in the fossilized tandem was performed by a male. Our results demonstrate that past behavioral interactions can be reconstructed despite the spatial distortion of body poses during fossilization. Our taphonomic approach clarifies how certain behaviors can be inferred from fossil occurrences.