Beautifully preserved 99-million-year-old beetle was early pollinator

Beautifully preserved 99-million-year-old beetle was early pollinator

The fossil represents the earliest definitive fossil evidence for cycad-insect interactions, and illuminates the ancient history of the establishment of complex entomophily in cycads.

Indeed, a fascinating aspect about early pollinating insects is that they were paired with non-flowering plants (gymnosperms), rather than flowering plants (angiosperms). Little is known about the early evolution of their pollination mode before the rise of angiosperms, or flowering plants, although cycads are well documented from the mid-Mesozoic. First, they now are the main pollinators of these plants.

The beetles were so involved with cycads that they evolved special adaptations like mandibular patches that transport pollen.

More to the point, the team uncovered a tiny beetle fossil trapped inside 99-million-year-old amber alongside several clumps of cycad pollen grains. He recognized that its large mandibles with bristly cavities might suggest the beetle was a pollinator of cycads.

A almost 100 million-year-old boganiid beetle found trapped in Burmese amber was the basis for the study and there were grains of cycad pollen trapped in the amber with the beetle.

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After the study researchers cut, trimmed, and polished the specimen, they examined it under a microscope. "This type of pollen only belongs to cycads - and the beetle and pollen matched!" 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.

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. This discovery suggests an ancient origin for beetle pollination of cycads long before the rise of flowering plants. The boganiid beetle, the researches found, belonged to a group of Australian beetles that now pollinate the cycad Macrozamia riedlei. Li analyzed pollen grains from the amber first spotted by Cai, confirming that it had come from a cycad. The fossilized insect is reportedly related to an Australian beetle that's still in existence and remain pollinating cycads.

This beetle belonged to the boganiid family, which are exceptionally rare in the fossil record, but are known pollinators of cycads.

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

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