A beetle trapped for 99 million years

A beetle found preserved in amber provides the earliest known evidence of an intimate relationship between insects and a group of ancient evergreen plants called cycads.

The beetle, known as a boganiid, was identified by scientists led by Chenyang Cai from the University of Bristol in the UK. Originally found by Diying Huang from China’s Nanjing Institute of Geology and Palaeontology, the insect had been trapped in tree sap in Myanmar for an estimated 99 million years.

As Cai carefully cleaned, trimmed and polished the lump of amber he realised that the beetle carried several small pollen grains. He showed them to Liqin Li from the Chinese Academy of Sciences who was able to identify them as coming from a cycad.

Cycads evolved around 300 million years ago – although some estimates suggest an even earlier beginning – and were once diverse and abundant around the globe. A few cycad species, such as Bowenia spectabilis, found in Australia’s northeastern Queensland region, survive today.

As a division, however, the plants are thought to have lost many members in the Jurassic and Late Triassic mass extinction events. They may also have been frequently out-competed by flowering plants, a group known as angiosperms.

The research is published in the journal Current Biology.

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