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Jan 07, 2014 03:43 PM EST

49-Million-Year-Old Cockroach Fossil Changes Theories of Ectobius' Origin and Timeframe

A new discovery of a 49 million-year-old cockroach fossil may change the origin of insect that is known to dwell in parts of Europe and Africa.

LiveScience reported the fossil suggests the insect came from North America. The cockroach was also confirmed to be part of the Ectobius genus, one of the world's most common in that area of the world, with more than 70 species.

North American cockroaches typically grow to about 1.5 inches, but the Ectobius tend to be only about 0.25-0.5 in length.

"About 65 years ago, several entomologists in the northeastern United States noted that four species of Ectobius were present in North America," study co-author Dr. Conrad Labandeira, said in a press release. "It was always assumed that these four newcomers were the first Ectobius species to have ever lived in North America. But the discovery in Colorado proves that their relatives were here nearly 50 million years ago."

The research team, based in the Slovak Academy of Sciences, said they believed the Ectobius first appeared 44 million years ago in Europe and Africa. The new discovery predates that timeframe and changes the specific location of origin.

The fossils were found in northwestern Colorado and were found to have four new species of the Ectobius genus. The scientists then had to generate theories on how the Ectobius cockroaches made their way across the ocean to Europe.

Labandeira told LiveScience sea levels were much lower in that time, meaning the Atlantic Ocean was much narrower. The bugs could have crawled from Canada into Greenland and then into Scandinavia.

"Much of our science is actually unpredictable in the sense that you never know what you are going to find," Labandeira said. "You open the door and there are mysteries. So this is an example of finding something out of time and out of place, and it leads into a very different interpretation of what actually happened."

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