Skip to main content

RotM: Interview with Marie Hornig

For the current instalment of Researcher of the Month, we spoke to Marie Hornig, a third year PhD student at the Cytology and Evolutionary Biology Department at the University of Greifswald, Germany. Her recently published paper, co-authored by Joachim Haug and Carolin Haug, researchers at the Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich, provides further details about the predator behaviour in mantodeans (animal order that consists of insects such as praying mantis and some 2400 other species). The subject of her study was a praying mantis fossil that is 110 million years old. 

Marie Hornig with Joachim Haug

A regular day at work for Marie Hornig with co-author Joachim Haug at the Palaeontogical Institute in Moscow.
Image credit: Carolin Haug.

CTS: The smallest of discoveries regarding dinosaurs get highlighted in the media. Here, a fossil preserved over 110 million years exists among us and there is hardly any mention in the media regarding this?

MH: I am fully aware that the focus of media does not represent the recent scientific findings, since non-vertebrate species have never gotten the attention that vertebrates do.

CTS:How do you feel about this? 

MH: I sleep well. However, I would be happy if the public would be generally more interested in non-vertebrates such as insects. Scientists, museums and zoos should invest more to advertise these animals especially for non-professionals. Many people are not aware that about 95% of all animal species are representatives of non-vertebrates (about 80% arthropods), so there is much more diversity in invertebrates than what we see in vertebrates. Further investigation of these groups is highly important because it can help us understand more about ecology, evolutionary biology and also aspects in medicine and other areas.

CTS:What can you tell us about this well preserved fossil?

MH:The newly described fossil is preserved in limestone and came from the Crato Formation in the northeast of Brazil, as well as all other known fossils of this species. The Crato Formation was formerly addressed as part of the Santana Formation, were the mantis has its name from. Santanmantis axelrodi was first described by David Grimaldi in 2003. In 2013, we describe a further fossil of this species with a well preserved raptorial leg. The fossil specimen in the current paper is part of the collection of the natural history museum in Berlin, which we visited several times to investigate fossils of different groups of insects. 

New specimen of Santanmantis axelrodi MB.I.2068.

110 million year old fossil studied by the author. Image A shows overview, Image B is the colour marked version of A and C shows details of thorax appendage. 

Image Credit:  10.7717/peerj.3605/fig-1

CTS:Why is it important to study early mantodeans?

MH:Our aim is to gather more information about different groups of non-vertebrates so as to understand about evolution in general. The closest relatives of mantids are the cockroaches and termites, which together are summarised as the group Dictyoptera.

Dictyoptera is a comparably old group. Cockroach-like insects were already common about 300 million years ago and are distributed all around the world today. This group is very interesting for our research, as there is a wide range of lifestyles in this group, ranging from solitary raptorial to social groups.

What we are interested in is the evolution of necessary morphological changes in different kinds of complex behaviour modes. For these organisms, we want to understand when mantids originated in history of our Earth and how the step-wise character evolution from a cockroach-like habitus to the highly specialised morphology of mantids to a raptorial lifestyle occurred.

CTS: Could you please share with our readers the insight that your recent publication has brought to the existing information regarding mantodeans? 

MH:This recent publication added some details regarding the morphology of the middle legs on what we have known before about the mantodean species Santanmantis axelrodi.

As fossil remains of praying mantises are comparably rare, every specimen can help to understand more about the morphology and evolution of these insects. Furthermore, we tried to reconstruct some aspects of behaviour based on the known fossils of this species. Maybe the most important message is that early different mantodean species might have had different strategies for prey catching which differs also from the raptorial behaviour of modern Mantodea.   

Restoration of Santanmantis axelrodi based on the author's recent work and newly discovered details

Restoration of Santanmantis axelrodi based on the author's recent work and newly discovered details.
Image credit: 10.7717/peerj.3605/fig-4 

CTS: It is easy to imagine predator behaviour in lions, tigers or even dinosaurs. What does predator behaviour in mantodeans look like?

MH: Most modern praying mantises are ambush predators, which capture their prey with their impressive raptorial fore legs.

CTS: Globally, how many labs are involved in this kind of research? 

MH: It is difficult to give a number of labs involved. The scientific community is highly dynamic regarding involved researchers and topics. 

CTS: Moving a little away, to the process of publication itself. Why did you choose to publish in PeerJ instead of other journals that offer Open Access Publication?

MH:Open access is an important reason for us to choose a journal. Many journals with this option are comparably cost-intensive. PeerJ offers the option of a membership were the authors pay once and can afterwards publish periodically (number of publications per year depends on the kind of membership) without further costs. Furthermore, PeerJ has a broad audience and has no restricting focus to a special field within biological research.

Ms. Hornig will soon submit her thesis towards completion of her PhD.

You can also find more information about research coming out of Joachim & Carolin’s lab on their blog Paleo Evo Devo.


Popular posts from this blog

Do free energy magnetic motors really work?

The internet is rife with websites that promote generators that are capable of providing electricity without using any fuel. Built largely with magnets, these 'free energy generators' promise to cut your electricity bills and provide a much greener alternative to the electricity that is largely generated out of fossil fuels. Elaborate videos that give you estimates of how much money you can save without revealing any details of how to go about it, manage to keep the audience hooked on for a while, but $40 price tag, the loads of freebies and the instant $10 discount for not leaving the page, make the product and its seller highly suspicious. So, we decided to find out if these free energy magnetic motors really work?

The Principle

The magnetic motor works on the simple principle that we all already know, 'Like poles repel each other while opposite poles attract each other'. By arranging the magnets in a fashion where only like poles face each other, one can simply set t…

Why Sci-Hub’s story is so crucial to science?

On the 28th of October 2015, Judge Robert Sweet in his ruling at the New York district court declared that the website be blocked with immediate effect and managed to stop hundreds and thousands of researchers and science enthusiasts from accessing the holy grail of today’s science, the research paper.
What should be a simple means to communicate to the world one’s research findings, has become a currency of some sort. A ticket to a researcher’s professional success, a magnet for an investigator to attract funding for his lab and the elusive piece of the puzzle that the publishing group can hold you ransom for, until you cough up some good cash ($30 or above for a single article and thousands of dollars for a bundled annual subscription)
What Judge Sweet termed as a “disservice (to) public interest”, is actually a small website that allows you access to scientific research, old and new, and for free. Sci- Hub. Org, started in 2011, as a trusted place to access research …

Generating electricity from flapping tree leaves

As kids, you might have spent many afternoons, under a huge tree, enjoying its shade. In a tropical country like India, trees are a welcome sight in the month of May, when the sun is blazing in the sky and the shade offered by them is a hundred thousand times better than artificial cooling of the air conditioning units. But never in our dream would we have thought that the rustling of the tiny leaves of the trees could one day make electricity for us.Because that requires a Hendersonian moment! (just in a bit)

This brilliant idea has come from the lab of a biophysicist at Iowa State University, Dr. Michael McCloskey, whose work at the University largely involves the study of membrane transport in algae and adult born neurons but also has a background in plant sciences. It was his colleague in the department of genetics, Dr. Eric Henderson who first came up with this plan of harvesting energy from leaves as he wondered how much kinetic energy was being generated when winds blow across l…

5 things driverless cars will do to change our future?

The race for building the world’s first commercially available driverless car is on. Google seems to be leading the pack and in its own charismatic style has been very open about it. Elon Musk’s Tesla is considered the second best with their cars having almost automated the driving process. Tech favourites, Apple also seem to be in the race but everything is under wraps, as of now, and there is not even a hint of what Apple is planning to make, the car, the software or simply make the car accessible with your Apple ID.
Once part of science fiction, driverless cars will soon be a part of our lives and with major automobile manufacturers such as General Motors, Toyota, Ford investing in the technology, prototypes of driverless cars will soon be seen on the roads. Before we get there, a quick review.
The Driverless car
The concept of automated driving has been around for close to a century but progress was slow due to unavailability of technology. For a car to be autonomous, it needs to kno…

Solar cells that work in rain

In case you have read my last month’s guest post about harvesting solar energy in rust, you would be delighted to know that there has been yet another breakthrough in our attempt to harness solar energy.  For many years, solar energy has been targeted for being unavailable at night and during rains. The problem of utilizing solar energy at night can be resolved with the help of metal oxide cells as elaborated in my above post (do read it, if you have not done so already). And now researchers at the Ocean University in China have addressed the second problem and developed solar cells that can actually use rain drops to generate electricity.
Published in the German journal Angewandte Chemie, the paper titled, A Solar Cell Triggered by Sun and Rain, opens a new realm of possibilities when harnessing solar energy. Coating the solar cell with a thin film of graphene allows the cell to function even when it is raining. Graphene is nothing but reduced form of graphite that consists of a hone…