Beetle preserved in amber reveals first insect-pollinated plant

Federico Mansilla
Agosto 19, 2018

It sets hard and fossilises remains over time.

It would have been crawling over plants for nourishment when it was frozen in time during the Cretaceous period. The little fellow was preserved with pilfered pollen from a cycad.

These primitive evergreens resemble palms and have been around for 300 million years but are now among the most threatened on Earth.

It is believed that the mutually beneficial cooperation of Coleoptera beetles and cycads are commenced not less than 250 million years ago and possibly much earlier, although direct paleontological evidence is not found. This discovery suggests an ancient origin for beetle pollination of cycads long before the rise of flowering plants. 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.

Pollination of plants by animals - a story that began long before the appearance of angiosperms. "This type of pollen only belongs to cycads - and the beetle and pollen matched!" It had a large head, slightly wider ithan ts thorax, sharp claws, big antennae and giant, protruding eyes.

But cycads are gymnosperms that have no flowers or fruits and were on the scene long before.

The Early Jurassic is a geological period that spans from 201.3 to 174.1 million years ago.

The fossil was found by Dr Cai's supervisor Professor Diying Huang at the Chinese Academy of Sciences at Nanjing.

A dorsal view of the mid-Cretaceous beetle Cretoparacucujus cycadophilus, including the mandibular cavities it likely used for pollination. But pollen grains are also rare, as they are very tiny and can only be found using powerful microscopes after careful preparation.

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This beetle belonged to the boganiid family, which are exceptionally rare in the fossil record, but are known pollinators of cycads. The boganiid beetle, the researches found, belonged to a group of Australian beetles that now pollinate the cycad Macrozamia riedlei. The fossilized insect is reportedly related to an Australian beetle that's still in existence and remain pollinating cycads.

The authors note findings that found a beetle belonging to the family Boganiidae, and had older relatives - at least in the Jurassic period.

He's been looking for them for the last five years.

Beetles will eat their way through petals and other floral parts.

Plant-insect interactions, one of the critical bedrocks for modern ecosystems, are largely dominated by insect-angiosperm relationships owing to the hegemony enjoyed by flowering plants since the Late Cretaceous. Research has shown that beetles are capable of colour-vision. The pollen likely came from a cycad, a prehistoric fernlike plant with a thick trunk and pineapple-shaped cones, the scientists report yesterday in Current Biology.

Cycads are still present today.

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