Beetle preserved in amber reveals first insect-pollinated plant

Alongside the beetle were perfectly preserved grains of pollen that were a match to cycads

Alongside the beetle were perfectly preserved grains of pollen that were a match to cycads

World's Oldest Snake Fossil Dating Back to 100-Million-Years Found in Myanmar. The unfortunate insect became trapped by sap, which eventually fossilized into amber.

Local deposits of amber find the most stunning evidence of the past, including extinct microscopic frog and feathered tail of a dinosaur. Alongside the ancient boganiid beetle, scientists also discovered grains of cycad pollen. This suggests that cycads may have been the first insect-pollinated plants. More convincing evidence of insectoid pollinators dates back 165 million years, to the Middle Jurassic, in the form of fossilised scorpionflies, who likely used their long proboscis to pollinate non-flowering plants.

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.

Early pollinators are severely lacking in the fossils record, which is why this exquisite beetle trapped in Burmese amber is so important to science. It shows that the insect had an intimate relationship with cycads, an unusual evergreen gymnosperm.

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.

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"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."

Cycad pollen grains associated with C. cycadophilus Credit: NIGPAS.

Upon closer inspection of the beetle, the researchers also found that the specimen had specially adapted mandibular patches to help transport pollen strengthening the hypothesis that this beetle was an early pollinator. It acted like a pocket, where they could collect pollen. Liqin Li, an expert in ancient pollen at the Chinese Academy of Sciences, later confirmed that the pollen grains belonged to a cycad.

The insect in question, no more than two millimeters long, belongs to the ancient boganiid family - known cycad pollinators, notes Gizmodo.

The amazingly preserved remains of a 99-million-year-old "lover of cycads" beetle that crawled alongside T-Rex has been found in amber.

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