Beetle preserved in amber reveals first insect-pollinated plant

This is a reconstruction of the mid Cretaceous beetle Cretoparacucujus burmiticus

Several geological eras later some scientists found that beetle and had a very good day.

The creepy crawly belongs to a family of beetles known as boganiids and had been pollinating the world's oldest seed plants, called cycads. But before angiosperms, animals like the 160-million-year-old Lichnomesopsyche gloriae, an extinct scorpionfly, used its 10-millimeter-long proboscis as a straw to suck out nectar from gymnosperms (flowerless plants), spreading pollen in the process. Cycads are ancient plants.

The researchers also found out that this ancient beetle's closest living relative was one such beetle in Australia, which also pollinated cycads. The findings, according to the study, indicate that these Boganiidae beetles were ancient cycad pollinators, making cycads potentially the first plants that were pollinated by insects. To Cai, the beetle's large mandibles with bristly cavities looked like they were designed specifically to carry cycad pollen.

Cai cut and polished the piece of amber to get a clearer view of the beetle inside.

Often insects, plant material, pollen and other creatures became trapped in the resin, causing them to be entombed within after it solidified. Now, researchers reporting in the journal Current Biology on August 16 have uncovered the earliest definitive fossil evidence of that intimate relationship between cycads and insects.

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The finding suggests they could have been pollinating plants for 200 million years - much longer than previously thought.

A paleontologist from the University of Bristol and lead author of the new study said that this is the only beetle of the genus buganini from over 22 000 of amber objects, which is currently housed in the Nanjing Institute of Geology and paleontology (which also now contains a new fossil).

Dr Cai said: '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'. Liqin Li, an expert in ancient pollen at the Chinese Academy of Sciences, later confirmed that the pollen grains belonged to a cycad.

Moreover, the researchers discovered that Cretoparacucujus cycadophilus is related to both Jurassic beetles and the modern-day Australian Paracucujus, which pollinates a species of cycad known as Macrozamia riedlei.

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

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