Amber fossil suggests ancient beetle pollinated evergreen cycads

An illustration of the ecological reconstruction of a Mid Cretaceous beetle pollinating a plant

An illustration of the ecological reconstruction of a Mid Cretaceous beetle pollinating a plant

But cycads are gymnosperms that have no flowers or fruits and were on the scene long before. But pollen grains are also rare, as they are very tiny and can only be found using powerful microscopes after careful preparation.

Indeed, a fascinating aspect about early pollinating insects is that they were paired with non-flowering plants (gymnosperms), rather than flowering plants (angiosperms). This may mean that the first pollinators to appear even earlier - from 200 to 145 million years ago.

It belongs to a family of beetles known as boganiids and had been pollinating the world's oldest seed plants, called cycads. It is believed that cycads were the first plants that attract pollinators ancient, but direct evidence of their interaction, however, still received little. The fossilized insect is reportedly related to an Australian beetle that's still in existence and remain pollinating cycads.

The boganiid beetled stuck inside the Myanmar amber hails from the mid-Cretaceous, the upper period of the Mesozoic Era (145 million to 66 million years ago) and has been described as a new species, dubbed Cretoparacucujus cycadophilus.

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.

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Chenyang Cai, study lead author and now a research fellow at the University of Bristol, explains that he was instantly intrigued by the discovery of the beetle.

"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", said Cai.

Additionally, its large mandibles suggest the bettle likely pollinated cycads, according to Dr. Cai's supervisor, Diying Huang. Liqin Li, an ancient pollen expert at the Chinese Academy of Sciences, confirmed the pollen grains belonged to an ancient cycad species.

As part of the study, the researchers also reviewed the phylogenetics and distribution of the boganiid beetle family tree. Research has shown that beetles are capable of colour-vision.

Today, most flowering plants, including many food crops, could not reproduce without the insect transport of pollen. Every penny we collect from donations supports vital investigative and independent journalism.

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