The tiny flower that bloomed 30 million years ago is still in near-perfect condition, preserved in an airless amber tomb with only a tiny wasp, also frozen in place, for the company.
Finding this insect and flower suspended close together provides insight into their relationship in the ancient tropical ecosystem they once inhabited, according to a new study published June 16 in the journal. historical biology (will open in a new tab). The flower belongs to a previously unknown flower of an exceptionally rare group, and hidden inside one of its spherical seed pods was a secret stowaway: a developing larva of a tiny fly that may have been intended as future food for baby wasps. .
Study author George Poinar Jr., a research fellow in the Department of Integrative Biology at the Oregon State University College of Science in Corvallis, Oregon, described the wasp in 2020. This insect was also an unknown species and Poinar named it Hambletonia Dominican; The species name alludes 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 a 2020 issue of the journal. Biosis: biological systems (will open in a new tab).
For Poinar, the wasp’s graceful shape and the position of its perfectly preserved legs made it almost “dancing,” he said. in a statement (will open in a new tab).
Perhaps the wasp was not interested in the flower and simply wandered into the wrong place at the wrong time and ended up encased in sticky resin. However, another possibility is that the wasp got stuck near the flower because it was visiting the flower, either to eat its pollen, or for a more gruesome reason: to lay an egg on the plant’s populated seed pod so that the baby wasp could then burrow inside. to devour a fly larva.
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When Poinar collected a sample of Dominican amber a few years ago, he was “baffled” by its contents, he told Live Science in an email. “Because I couldn’t understand how these two different specimens could end up together,” Poinar said. “I felt that the only way I could proceed was to identify both organisms and look for biological features that could explain their ‘compatibility’.”
The flower is only 0.09 inches (2.4 millimeters) long and the species name is Plukenetia minima (from “minimus”, Latin for “smallest”) is a nod to its diminutive size, Poinar writes in a new study. It belongs to the Euphorbiaceae family of flowering plants, which includes tropical plants such as the poinsettia and the rubber tree. February issue of the newspaper International Journal of Plant Sciences (will open in a new tab).
However, fossil evidence for this group is rare, and only one other fossil flower is known from sedimentary deposits in western Tennessee, writes Poinar.
P. minimum had a long stem and no petals, but was instead topped with four seed pods, one of which contained a single “smooth-bodied” fly larva and a pair of tiny antennae. According to the study, judging by the size and shape of its body, it is a larva of a gall mosquito, a type of small fly from the Diptera order, which attacks flowering plants of all kinds. Thus, a wasp preserved in amber could be attracted to an infected plant “in order to lay an egg, which, after hatching, would parasitize on a gall mosquito larva,” wrote Poinar. But instead, the flowing resin ensured that the larva, the wasp, and the flower would all share the same sticky fate and be kept together for tens of millions of years to come.
The delicate bodies of small insects and the structures of tiny plants and flowers are rarely fossilized, and most have been lost over time. In this case, the amber dwellers are rare examples of fossils that have preserved significant structural details from the time they were alive, providing a unique insight into their tropical “microhabitat” from the distant past, Poinar writes in the study.
“The state of preservation of amber is much better than other fossils,” Poinar said. “Amber fossils look like they are alive, so the characters are easy to describe. It’s like they’ve just entered amber.”
Originally published on Live Science.
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