The first fossil record of the differential grasshopper, Melanoplus differentialis (Orthoptera: Acrididae: Melanoplinae)

In a short paper published recently in Entomological News (citation and link below) , lab PI Sam Heads and collaborator Yinan Wang described a fossil specimen of the extant differential grasshopper, Melanoplus differentialis (Thomas, 1865) from the Late Pleistocene McKittrick tar pits of southern California, USA.


Fossil Melanoplus differentialis in Late Pleistocene asphalt from the McKittrick tar pits of Kern County, southern California (scale bar = 5 mm).

The adult male specimen is partially preserved in left lateral aspect in a large chunk of asphalt containing numerous other fossils, including abundant plant and arthropod debris, a horsetail stem (Equisetum sp.) and a hydrophilid beetle (Hydrophilus sp.). The comparatively large body size and structure of the terminalia (in particular the shape of the cercus) confirm the identification of the specimen as M. differentialis, making this the first tar pit orthopteran to be identified to species.


Heads SW, Wang Y (2013) First fossil record of Melanoplus differentialis (Orthoptera: Acrididae: Melanoplinae). Entomological News 123: 33–37. [PDF]

Posted in Acrididae, fossil insects, Grasshoppers, News, Orthoptera, publications, Research | Tagged , , , ,

Heads Lab awarded NSF funding

We are delighted to announce that the Heads Lab has been awarded NSF support as part of a collaborative TCN project to digitize US fossil insect collections. The project, entitled “Fossil insect collaborative: A deep time approach to studying diversification and response to environmental change” involves seven institutions—American Museum of Natural History, Harvard Museum of Comparative Zoology, Illinois Natural History Survey, Museum of Natural History at the University of Colorado Boulder, University of Kansas Biodiversity Institute, Virginia Museum of Natural History and Yale Peabody Museum—and will be led by a team at the University of Colorado under the direction of Dr. Dena Smith. We are very excited about the project and look forward to working closely with Dena and our other colleagues to provide digital access to our fossil insect collections and build infrastructure to facilitate paleoentomological research.

Posted in fossil insects, News

Fossil insects at the Naturally Illinois Expo

Dr Sam Heads talks to 5th graders about fossil insects at this years Naturally Illinois Expo
[photo by Heather Coit of the News Gazette]

Members of the lab were busy last weekend at the Naturally Illinois Expo, an open house event organized by the Prairie Research Institute and featuring exhibits from all five of the state scientific surveys. Our exhibit focused on fossil insects and specifically the use of 3D imaging techniques in their reconstruction. Continue reading

Posted in fossil insects, News, Uncategorized | Tagged , ,



From left to right: Fernando Costa de Domenico, Ricardo Mariño-Pérez and Derek Woller during their visit to the lab, 27 February 2013.

Last week, the Species File Development Group at the INHS hosted a training workshop. Among the delegates were a number of young orthopterists who managed to take a little time out of the training schedule to visit with me in the lab. Continue reading

Posted in Uncategorized

Year in Review: 2012

Taking notes in the jungle somewhere in southern Belize

In the jungle, the mighty jungle, the entomologist takes field notes
[southern Belize, 2012, photo by Steve Taylor]

2012 was a busy and productive year in the lab. Here are some of the highlights. Continue reading

Posted in News, publications, Research | 1 Comment

Postdoctoral Research Opportunity at the Illinois Natural History Survey, University of Illinois

The Illinois Natural History Survey is seeking applications for the position of Postdoctoral Research Associate. The position is full-time and will be funded for two years. Full details are available here.

Applications should include a two year research plan (maximum 3 single spaced pages, not including references) for research at the Illinois Natural History Survey. Preference will be given to applicants who develop a strong research plan that merits additional and continued external funding. Applicants must have an earned Ph.D. by the start date (negotiable but expected before 31 December 2013) and have graduated within the last five years.

Applicants must contact a host research sponsor (listed here) at the Illinois Natural History Survey in advance of the application.  Identification of a willing host research sponsor along with a letter of support from the sponsor must accompany the application. A full curriculum vitae must also be included and applicants should arrange for two letters of recommendation to be sent in addition to the sponsor letter. Applications should be submitted by 15 March 2013 to receive full consideration.

Candidates interested in working in my lab should contact me directly by e-mail or telephone to discuss possible projects. I will consider supporting applicants with interests in insect systematics and paleontology (with emphasis on Orthoptera and related groups preferred).

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Season’s Greetings

Wishing you all a wonderful festive season and a very happy New Year.

Season's Greetings

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