Beetle in 99-million-year-old amber found with ancient cycad pollen

This is a reconstruction of the mid Cretaceous beetle Cretoparacucujus burmiticus

This is a reconstruction of the mid Cretaceous beetle Cretoparacucujus burmiticus

It also puts a light on the early flowering plants.

A group of unusual evergreen gymnosperms, known as cycads, may have been the first insect-pollinated plants.

Chenyang Cai, a palaeontologist from the University of Bristol and the lead author of the new study, said it's the only boganiid beetle out of over 22,000 amber pieces now housed at the Nanjing Institute of Geology and Palaeontology (where the new fossil is also being kept).

When Dr Cai first saw the fossil he was immediately intrigued and recognised its bristly cavities might suggest the beetle was a pollinator of cycads. Li analyzed pollen grains from the amber first spotted by Cai, confirming that it had come from a cycad. However, now scientists have concluded that millions of years ago beetles had the pollination prowess.

The researchers discovered a new genus and species of boganiid beetle, named Cretoparacucujus cycadophilus Cai and Escalona, 2018, preserved with many tiny cycad pollen grains and possessing specialized mandibular patches for the transport of cycad pollen.

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The scientific staff of the Nanjing Institute of Geology and palaeontology found on the border with Myanmar ancient beetle pollinator, which has been preserved in amber. 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. One of the beetle's close relatives, Australian paracucujus, pollinated an ancient Australian cycad species, Macrozamia riedlei.

Dr Cai believes similar beetle pollinators of cycads are yet to be found. It's likely that Jurassic-era beetles are found as compression fossils, and not trapped in amber, leaving the clues of the past to remain a mystery.

The interesting thing about this insect, aside from the cycad pollen encapsulated along with it, is that it sports a series of special adaptations which indicate it had a pollen diet.

"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".

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.

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