Scientists found in amber insect age nearly 100 million years

Pat Wise
August 19, 2018

Alongside the ancient boganiid beetle, scientists also discovered grains of cycad pollen. It is believed that cycads were the first plants that attract pollinators ancient, but direct evidence of their interaction, however, still received little.

Flowering plants, or angiosperms, are well known for their special relationship with insects and other pollinating animals.

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

The researchers discovered a new genus and species of boganiid beetle, named Cretoparacucujus cycadophilus Cai and Escalona, 2018, preserved with many tiny cycad pollen grains and possessing specialized mandibular patches for the transport of cycad pollen.

Biologists found in a piece of amber from Myanmar beetle, which is nearly 100 million years ago pollinate ancient plants in the Cretaceous period.

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

The boganiid beetled stuck inside the Myanmar amber hails from the mid-Cretaceous, the upper period of the Mesozoic Era (145 million to 66 million years ago) and has been described as a new species, dubbed Cretoparacucujus cycadophilus.

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Cai cut and polished the piece of amber to get a clearer view of the beetle inside. It acted like a pocket, where they could collect pollen.

Phylogenetic analyses of the beetle and associated pollen grains conducted by Dr. CAI Chenyang from the Nanjing Institute of Geology and Palaeontology of the Chinese Academy of Sciences (NIGPAS) and his colleagues indicated that it was probably a pollinator of early cycads.

"Boganiid beetles have been ancient pollinators for cycads since the Age of Cycads and Dinosaurs", said study lead author Chenyang Cai, a paleontologist from the University of Bristol in the United Kingdom.

"Our finding indicates a very ancient origin of beetle pollination of cycads at least in the Early Jurassic, long before the [emergence and spread] of flowering plants and their pollinators - such as bees and butterflies - later in the Cretaceous or later", said Cai. Another evidence of existing insectoid pollinators dates back to about 165 million years.

In addition to identifying the pollen, the researchers analyzed the beetle itself, linking it to a sister group to Australian Paracucujus, which is a modern cycad pollinator. A consulting expert confirmed the pollen came from a cycad plant.

Cai has been attempting to find similar beetle pollinators that are left undiscovered.

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