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Mid-Mesozoic beetle in amber stirs questions on rise of flowering plants and pollinators
“Named for Charles Darwin, the only known specimen of a newly discovered beetle, Darwinylus marcosi, died in a sticky gob of tree sap some 105 million years ago in what is now northern Spain. As it thrashed about before drowning, more than 100 clumped pollen grains were dislodged from its body and released into the resin. Five grains remained stuck to the beetle itself. Preserved with the beetle in the now-hard amber, the grains reveal that the beetle had been chewing a pollen meal with its jaw-like mouthparts just before it died.
Scientists familiar with this era in earth’s history, the mid-Mesozoic, didn’t need to ponder long about what flowers produced the pollen. The answer is none. The amber dates to a time when flowering plants — angiosperms — were just beginning to appear and the earth was overwhelmingly dominated by diverse, non-flowering plant species, such as cycads, ginkgoaleans, bennettitaleans and conifers — the gymnosperms.
Now, the discovery of D. marcosi in Spanish amber is proof of a new insect pollination mode that dates to the mid-Mesozoic: beetles with biting or “jaw-like mouthparts and a chewing feeding style,” says Conrad Labandeira, a paleobiologist at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History. This amber fossil is the .” .. first, direct evidence of a fourth major gymnosperm-insect pollination mode during this time.” A study on this discovery — and its significance in the context of a growing body of evidence of gymnosperm-insect pollinator relationships and modes leading up to the rise of flowering plants — was published today, March 2, 2017, in the journal Current Biology. A display featuring key findings from this study and gymnosperm-insect pollinator relationships will be included in the museum’s new fossil hall, scheduled to open in 2019.” (…) READ MORE
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