Atta praecursor

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Atta praecursor
Temporal range: 100–66 Ma Late Cretaceous
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Arthropoda
Class: Insecta
Order: Hymenoptera
Family: Formicidae
Subfamily: Myrmicinae
Tribe: Attini
Genus: Atta
Species: A. praecursor
Binomial name
Atta praecursor
Frič, 1901

This taxon is based on an ichnotaxon, a damaged leaf supposedly caused by an attine ant.

However, the identity of the taxon responsible for this damage remains unclear. Handlirsch (1908) noted that (translated from German): "Irregular, almost semicircular cutouts in a leaf are attributed to an Atta (ant!). As quite similar feeding forms are also produced by many other insects (tenthredinid larvae, Megachile etc. etc.), I think it is very premature to conclude from this fossil the presence of an Atta in this chalk formation." Baroni Urbani (1980) shared this view (although without citation): PRIC & BAYER (1901) concluded from a fossil leaf with irregular semi-circular cuts the presence of leaf cutting ants in the Upper Cretaceous from Bohemia. They even give it a generic and specific Latin name, "Atta praecursor". However, cuts of this sort could equally have been produced by a lot of different (and even more probable) beings like Tenthredinid larvae, Megachile, etc. - apart from many other unknown Cretaceous creatures. Thus, it is obvious that "Atta praecursor" is, at best, worth remaining in the literature just as an example of fertile imagination." However, Michez et al. (2012) speculate that this damage was not caused by a bee: "Note that the trace fossil "Atta praecursor" from the Late Cretaceous of Bohemia (Fric and Bayer 1901) was considered a Megachile trace fossil by Baroni Urbani (1980) but the specimen does not appear to be a bee trace fossil (personal observation)."

Given the age (Ward et al. 2014) and current distribution of Atta and its close relatives, it would seem highly unlikely that a true Atta species was wandering around Europe during the Late Cretaceous. It is much more likely that the leaf damage observed by Frič and Bayer (1901) was the result of some other cause, possibly by some long-extinct and unknowable animal feeding on the leaf or, just as likely, some non-biological physical cause.

At a Glance • Ichnofossil  


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  • This fossil species is based on the work of an insect rather than the insect itself, in this case the damaged edges of a leaf, assumed to have been cut by a leaf cutting ant of the genus Atta.


This taxon was described from the Czech Republic.


The following information is derived from Barry Bolton's Online Catalogue of the Ants of the World.

  • praecursor. †Atta praecursor Frič, in Frič & Bayer, 1901: 167, fig. 8 (damaged leaf) CZECH REPUBLIC (Cretaceous, ichnospecies).
    • [Note: ichnotaxon; damaged leaf, supposedly caused by an attine ant. Extremely unlikely as Cretaceous far too early for attines.]
    • Leaf damage the result of tenthredinid larva, megachiline bee, or other: Handlirsch, 1908: 672; Baroni Urbani, 1980b: 4.
    • Not a bee trace fossil: Michez, et al. 2012: 105.