"Frozen 99 million years": In ancient amber discovered beetle pollinator

Jan Cross
August 19, 2018

But pollen grains are also rare, as they are very tiny and can only be found using powerful microscopes after careful preparation. The finding, along with the current disjunct distribution of related beetle-herbivore and cycad-host pairs in South Africa and Australia, support an ancient origin of beetle pollination of cycads, the researchers say. Because locked in the amber with it was evidence of how insects helped with pollination long before the arrival of flowering plants.

Cycads, he cicadinae, are among the most ancient gymnosperms, which appeared on the planet before flowering.

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.

These wonderful pictures show a 99 million year old beetle trapped in amber, believed to be the world's earliest insect pollinator of the first flowers. Some of the beetle's special adaptations are mandibles with hairy cavities that are meant to carry and transport the cycad pollen collected.

Believe it or not, but this excellently preserved beetle is 99 million years old! It is assumed that they were the first plants that attracted pollinators, but direct evidence of such collaboration, scientists up to this point.

Dr Chenyang Cai, a research fellow at the University of Bristol, said: "Boganiid beetles have been ancient pollinators for cycads since the age of cycads and dinosaurs".

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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."

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

Phylogenetic analyses of the beetle and associated pollen grains conducted by Dr. CAI Chenyang from the Nanjing Institute of Geology and Palaeontology of the Chinese Academy of Sciences (NIGPAS) and his colleagues indicated that it was probably a pollinator of early cycads.

After that Liqin Li from the Chinese Academy of Sciences concluded the pollen actually belonged to an ancient cycad. The boganiid beetle, the researches found, belonged to a group of Australian beetles that now pollinate the cycad Macrozamia riedlei.

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

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