Integrated phylogenomic and fossil evidence of stick and leaf insects (Phasmatodea) reveal a Permian-Triassic co-origination with insectivores

Erik Tihelka, Chenyang Cai*, Mattia Giacomelli, Davide Pisani, Philip C J Donoghue

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review


Stick and leaf insects (Phasmatodea) are a distinctive insect order whose members are characterised by mimicking various plant tissues such as twigs, foliage, and bark. Unfortunately, the phylogenetic relationships among phasmatodean subfamilies and the timescale of their evolution remain uncertain. Recent molecular clock analyses have suggested a Cretaceous-Palaeogene origin of crown Phasmatodea and a subsequent Cenozoic radiation, contrasting with fossil evidence. Here we analysed transcriptomic data from a broad diversity of phasmatodeans and, combined with the assembly of a new suite of fossil calibrations, we elucidate the evolutionary history of stick and leaf insects. Our results differ from recent studies in the position of the leaf insects (Phylliinae), which are recovered as sister to a clade comprising Clitumninae, Lancerocercata, Lonchodinae, Necrosciinae, and Xenophasmina. We recover a Permian to Triassic origin of crown Phasmatodea coinciding with the radiation of early insectivorous parareptiles, amphibians, and synapsids. Aschiphasmatinae and Neophasmatodea diverged in the Jurassic–Early Cretaceous. A second spur in origination occurred in the Late Cretaceous, coinciding with the Cretaceous Terrestrial Revolution, and was likely driven by visual predators such as stem birds (Enantiornithes) and the radiation of angiosperms.
Original languageEnglish
JournalRoyal Society Open Science
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 19 Oct 2020

Structured keywords

  • MSci Palaeontology and Evolution


  • phylogeny
  • evolutionary history
  • K-Pg mass extinction
  • Mesozoic
  • predation
  • adaptive radiation
  • Cretaceous Terrestrial Revolution

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