Amazingly preserved remains of a 99-million-year-old beetle

James Marshall
August 19, 2018

Belonging to the time of the Cretaceous when the dinosaurs T-rex were roaming the earth, the creature was existent crawling over the trousers and flowers.

Found in northern Myanmar's Kachin State, this chunk of 99-million-year-old Cretaceous amber contains a beetle with bits of pollen around it. But pollen grains are also rare, as they are very tiny and can only be found using powerful microscopes after careful preparation. Their analysis indicates the fossilized beetle belonged to a sister group to the extant Australian Paracucujus, which pollinate the relic cycad Macrozamia riedlei.

These primitive evergreens resemble palms and have been around for 300 million years but are now among the most threatened on Earth. He's been looking for them for the last five years. "Our find indicates a probable ancient origin of beetle pollination of cycads at least in the Early Jurassic, long before angiosperm dominance and the radiation of flowering-plant pollinators, such as bees, later in the Cretaceous". If this is true, beetles may have been pollinating gymnosperms for over 100 million years before the bees and the butterflies even started pollinating angiosperms.

Earlier in the Crimea, found the remains of an ancient whale that had lain in the earth for ten million years.

The most impressive feature of Cretoparacucujus is its big head.

Insect-mediated pollination in gymnosperms and potentially prior to the rise of flowering plants is critical for understanding not only the complex biology of these plants today but also the ecology of pre-angiospermous ecosystems and the history of pollination specializations on gymnosperms. Cycads are ancient plants.

"It's inadvertently and innocently pollinating the plant", said Michael Engel, a paleoentomologist at the University of Kansas and an author on the paper.

Often insects, plant material, pollen and other creatures became trapped in the resin, causing them to be entombed within after it solidified.

When Cai's supervisor Diying Huang at the Nanjing Institute of Geology and Palaeontology, Chinese Academy of Sciences, first showed him the beetle trapped in amber, he was immediately intrigued.

He recognised its large jaws with bristly cavities might suggest the beetle was a pollinator of cycads.

After that Liqin Li from the Chinese Academy of Sciences concluded the pollen actually belonged to an ancient cycad.

As part of the study, the researchers also reviewed the phylogenetics and distribution of the boganiid beetle family tree.

Other reports by Click Lancashire

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