A small flower that blossomed 30 million years ago and still survives today in near-perfect condition, kept inside an airless amber tomb with only a small wasp – also frozen in place – for communion.
Finding this insect and its flower suspended so closely provides clues about their relationship in the ancient tropical ecosystem they once inhabited, according to a new study published June 16 in the journal. Historical Biology (Opens in a new tab). The inflorescence belonged to a previously unknown flower species in an exceptionally rare group, and was hidden within one of the globular seed pods: the developing caterpillar of a tiny fly, which was probably intended as a future meal for wasp pups. .
Study author George Poinar Jr., a researcher in the Department of Integrative Biology at Oregon State University College of Science in Corvallis, Oregon, described the wasp in 2020. The insect was also an unknown species, and Poinar named it the wasp. Dominican Hambletonia The species’ name refers to the Dominican Republic, where amber was discovered, and the tiny parasitic wasp belongs to a group known to prey on other insects, Poinar reported in 2020 in the journal. Biosis: biological systems (Opens in a new tab).
For Poinar, the hornet’s nimble form and perfectly preserved leg positions made him look like he was “dancing,” he said. in the current situation (Opens in a new tab).
Perhaps the wasp wasn’t interested in the flower and simply wandered into the wrong place at the wrong time, ending up encased in sticky resin. However, another possibility is that the wasp became stuck near the flower because it was visiting the flower, either to eat the pollen or for a more gruesome reason: to lay an egg on the plant’s inhabited seed pod, so that the wasp could then hatch. He hid inside to devour the larvae of flies.
Related: A fearsome big-eyed cockroach has been discovered trapped in amber 100 million years ago
When Poinar collected a sample of Dominican amber several years ago, his contents “puzzled” him, he told Live Science in an email. “Since I can’t understand how these two different samples could end up together,” Poinar said. “I felt that the only way I could move forward was to identify both organisms and search for biological features that could explain their ‘union’.”
The flower is only 0.09 inches (2.4 mm) long, and the species name – Lower Blokinetia Poinar wrote in the new study (from the Latin word “minimus” meaning “less”) – a reference to its small size. It belongs to the Euphorbiaceae family of flowering plants, which includes tropical plants such as the poinsettia and the rubber tree. The oldest Euphorbiaceae fruit fossils date back to the latter part of the Cretaceous period (145 million to 66 million years ago), another team of researchers reports in the February issue of International Journal of Plant Sciences (Opens in a new tab).
However, fossil evidence for this group is scarce, and only one other fossil flower is known, from the sedimentary deposits of western Tennessee, Poinar wrote.
P. minima It had a long stem and no petals, but instead was topped with four seed pods, one of which bore one fly larva with a “smooth body” and a pair of tiny antennae. Based on body size and shape, it appears to be a gall larva, a type of small fly in the order Diptera that attacks flowering plants of all kinds, according to the study. Poinar wrote that wasps kept in amber may have been attracted to the infested plant “in order to deposit an egg that, after hatching, might parasitize on a gall larva.” But instead, the influx of resin ensured that the caterpillar, wasp, and flower all met the same sticky fate, and were preserved together for tens of millions of years to come.
The microscopic bodies of small insects and small plant and flower structures are rarely fossilized, most of which have been lost over time. In this case, the amber dwellers are rare examples of fossils that have retained significant structural detail since they were alive, providing a unique glimpse into tropical “micro-habitats” from the distant past, Poinar wrote in the study.
“The degree of preservation is more complete in amber than in other fossils,” Poinar said. “Amber fossils are life-like, which makes it easy to describe the characters. It’s as if they just stepped into amber.”
Originally published on Live Science.
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