A 99-million-year-old beetle preserved in amber shows scientists many details on how it adapted to transport cycad pollen.
According to the study recently published in the journal Current Biology, researchers discovered that the beetle trapped in amber is 99 million years. The discovery could help them learn more about the relationship between pollinators and ancient plants.
The first plants that needed insects to pollinate are known to be the cycads – which were evergreen gymnosperms.
This study analyzes the earliest fossil evidence of the connection between insects and cycad pollen.
The preserved insect is an ancient boganiid beetle found in Burmese amber, analysis showing it’s 99 million years along. Inside amber, there were also grains of cycad pollen.
Researchers found that the beetle adapted to transport the cycad pollen. It had mandibular patches, and in its family tree, the phylogenetic analysis shows that the beetle belonged to a group called the Australian Paracucujus. Its sister group used to pollinate the cycad Macrozamia riedlei.
Ancient Plants Pollinated by Bettles
The discovery was made after Diying Huang (Chinese Academy of Sciences) showed Chenyang Cai the chunk of amber. He noticed the mandibles of the beetle and started analyzing the piece in detail to prove that this beetle was made to carry pollen, making its species a cycad pollinator.
Cai, who is a research fellow at the University of Bristol in the United Kingdom, explains that:
“Boganiid beetles have been ancient pollinators for cycads since the Age of Cycads and Dinosaurs. 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.”
Cai teamed up with another researcher at the Chinese Academy of Sciences, Liqin Li, who specializes in ancient pollen. Analysis of the pollen grains showed that they came from a cycad, making the Boganiidae beetles cycad pollinators – thus cycads were the first plants pollinated by insects.
Andre Blair s is the lead editor for Advocator.ca. He holds a B.A. in Psychology from the University of Toronto, and a Master of Science in Public Health (M.S.P.H.) from the School of Public Health, Department of Health Administration, at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Andre specializes in environmental health, but writes on a variety of issues.