Meet Cretoparacucujus cycadophilus, a new species of beetle that is the earliest direct evidence of an insect pollinating an ancient plant group nearly 100 million years ago.
Found in a piece of amber from Myanmar along with several grains of cycad pollen, the wonderfully preserved animal is the earliest proof of an insect adapted to pollinate cycads. The beetle has specialized mouthparts and legs that researchers believe were used to collect and spread the particular variety of cycad pollen found with it.
Further analysis of the new beetle suggested it’s most closely related to species from South Africa and Australia, some of which are not only still around today but also still pollinating modern cycads.
The wide distribution of the cycad-beetle partnership suggests to researchers that it evolved earlier than previously indicated by the fossil record, and makes these leggy little guys possibly the very first pollinating insects.
Image: Chenyang Cai