Published: Sun, August 19, 2018
Sci-tech | By Patricia Wade

This beetle had a head full of pollen for 99 million years

This beetle had a head full of pollen for 99 million years

Researchers hope to use the beetle to investigate the ancient relationship between pollinators and plants some 250 million years ago, long before flowering plants appeared and dinosaurs still walked the planet. What's more, scientists have not found larger fossils cycads, such as leaves, from Burmese amber - only the very tiny pollen grains reported in this new study.

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

A chunk of amber featuring a bettle was presented by Diying Huang at the Chinese Academy of Sciences to Chenyang Cai, who is now a fellow at the University of Bristol.

He recognized that its large mandibles with bristly cavities might suggest the beetle was a pollinator of cycads.

Nearly 100 million years ago, a beetle had a bad day, became caught in some tree resin and was asphyxiated. Another evidence of existing insectoid pollinators dates back to about 165 million years. The world's oldest existing life is still kind of a mystery and this amber fossil changes a bit of what we know until now. This makes it the earliest definitive fossil evidence of beetles possible helping pollinate cycads.

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Dr Cai said: "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".

But before angiosperms, animals like the 160-million-year-old Lichnomesopsyche gloriae, an extinct scorpionfly, used its 10-millimeter-long proboscis as a straw to suck out nectar from gymnosperms (flowerless plants), spreading pollen in the process.

He also conducted an extensive DNA analysis to explore the beetle's family tree and found the fossilised beetle belonged to a sister group to the Australian Paracucujus, which pollinates the relic cycad Macrozamia riedlei today. Indeed, the beetle had clumps of pollen grains with it. Li analyzed pollen grains from the amber first spotted by Cai, confirming that it had come from a cycad.

The pollinating relationship between bees and butterflies with flowers is well-documented. These pollens point out to the existence of the earlier insect-pollinated plant species. Though the beetle has always been suspect No. 1 for shuttling pollen from male to female cycads, the new specimen, found in Myanmar, significantly strengthens the case, The New York Times reports.

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