(ORDO NEWS) — Paleontologists have discovered a “missing link” between ancient bioluminescent insects and modern fireflies – an exceptionally well-preserved beetle encased in amber a hundred million years ago. The research results are published in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B.
Glowing beetles – fireflies, golden beetles, fengodids and their relatives, more than 3500 described species in total – are the most common bioluminescent land animals. They use light to scare away predators, attract females, and some females also to lure and eat unsuspecting males.
Most of the luminescent beetles fall into the giant superfamily Elateroidea, numbering about 24,000 known species. Thousands more species await their description. Historically, despite the species diversity, the evolution of bioluminescence in beetles is still poorly understood. Therefore, the discovery by Chinese, British and Czech scientists of a well-preserved glowing beetle from the Cretaceous period is an important paleontological event.
“Many light-producing beetles are quite small and have a soft body, so their fossil record is scarce,” according to one of the study authors, Dr. Chenyang Cai, in a press release from the University of Bristol. “However, this is a new fossil found in amber from northern Myanmar. , exceptionally well preserved, even the light organ is not damaged. ”
According to the authors, the presence of a light organ on the abdomen of a male insect, which scientists named Cretophengodes azari, suggests that beetles were able to emit light 100 million years ago.
“The newly discovered fossil, preserved in amber with realistic accuracy, represents an extinct relative of the living families Rhagophthalmidae and Phengodidae,” says Yan-Da Li of the Nanjing Institute of Geology and Paleontology (NIGP) and Peking University. also took part in the study.
“Elateroidea is one of the most diverse groups of beetles with which entomologists have always found it very difficult to deal, especially because important anatomical innovations have evolved many times independently in unrelated groups. that it helps shed light on the evolution of these amazing insects, “notes co-author Erik Tihelka of the School of Earth Sciences.
The authors suggest that light production initially developed in soft and vulnerable beetle larvae as a defense mechanism to scare away predators.
“The fossil remains show that in the Cretaceous period, light production was also adopted by adults. In doing so, it began to perform other functions, such as finding partners,” explains Robin Kundrata, an expert on elateroid beetles at Palacky University in the Czech Republic.
Interestingly, the males and females of the new species likely differed greatly in appearance and size, as in the modern red-winged beetle Platerodrilus, whose wingless females are known as “trilobite beetles.”
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