Trapped beetle unlocks the secret of pollination

19 August, 2018, 03:25 | Author: Kelly Sanders
  • Amazingly preserved remains of a 99-million-year-old beetle

Cycads are ancient plants. But pollen grains are also rare, as they are very tiny and can only be found using powerful microscopes after careful preparation.

Pollination of plants by animals - a story that began long before the appearance of angiosperms.

Earth's oldest pollinating insects are a bit of a mystery, but fossilised insect dung containing bits of pollen suggest they first emerged during the Middle Triassic (247 million to 237 million years ago). This suggests that cycads may have been the first insect-pollinated plants. It is assumed that from that time on, the main partners of the cycads was made by beetles of the family Boganiidae.

Believe it or not, but this excellently preserved beetle is 99 million years old!

They may have been the first insect-pollinated plants, according to the research published in Current Biology.

A chunk of amber featuring a bettle was presented by Diying Huang at the Chinese Academy of Sciences to Chenyang Cai, who is now a fellow at the University of Bristol.

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'.

The Early Jurassic is a geological period that spans from 201.3 to 174.1 million years ago.

One of the authors of the work, Dion Huang (Huang Diying) from the Nanjing Institute of Geology and paleontology, bought a sample on myanmarsar market near the border with China.

A dorsal view of the mid-Cretaceous beetle Cretoparacucujus cycadophilus, including the mandibular cavities it likely used for pollination.

After that Liqin Li from the Chinese Academy of Sciences concluded the pollen actually belonged to an ancient cycad.

A phylogenetic analysis explored the beetle's family tree, showing that the insect belonged to a sister group to the extant (still surviving) Australian Paracucujus, which pollinate the relic cycad Macrozamia riedlei. Research has shown that beetles are capable of colour-vision. These pollens point out to the existence of the earlier insect-pollinated plant species.

Cycads today they face a risk of extinction four times greater than the average for plants.

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