Beautifully preserved 99-million-year-old beetle was early pollinator

Cycad pollen grains associated with C. cycadophilus Credit NIGPAS

Cycads, or leafhoppers, are the most ancient gymnosperm plant, common on the earth before the emergence of flowering plants. For instance, the beetle fossil, which has been extremely well preserved, has mandibular cavities that would have helped it carry the pollen.

Indeed, a fascinating aspect about early pollinating insects is that they were paired with non-flowering plants (gymnosperms), rather than flowering plants (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). One of the beetle's close relatives, Australian paracucujus, pollinated an ancient Australian cycad species, Macrozamia riedlei.

But cycads are gymnosperms that have no flowers or fruits and were on the scene long before. This makes it the earliest definitive fossil evidence of beetles possible helping pollinate cycads.

A new mid-Cretaceous (99-million-year-old) boganiid beetle with specialized pollen feeding adaptations was reported in Current Biology on August 16, 2018.

Dr. Cai continued: "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". It had a large head, slightly wider ithan ts thorax, sharp claws, big antennae and giant, protruding eyes.

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

The pollinating relationship between bees and butterflies with flowers is well-documented.

Cai first encountered the amber fossil while conducting research at the Chinese Academy of Sciences' Nanjing Institute of Geology and Palaeontology. Its length is only a couple millimetres, the insect has long mandibles, which is traditional for cycads pollinators.

As phylogenetic analysis by Cai and his colleagues revealed, cycad pollination ran in the family.

Dr Cai believes similar beetle pollinators of cycads are yet to be found. Research has shown that beetles are capable of colour-vision. A consulting expert confirmed the pollen came from a cycad plant.

Cycads are still present today. News is increasingly biased, corrupt, or agenda driven. Every penny we collect from donations supports vital investigative and independent journalism.

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