Wednesday, 24 August 2016

Orchids in amber

It is known that beetles can pollinate plants, but thanks to new fossil evidence, it seems beetles were pollinating certain orchids in particular a staggering 20 million years ago.

Fossilised amber from the Miocene epoch in Mexico and the Dominican Republic reveal beetles with orchid pollen attached to the thorax.

Scientists know that some beetles use orchids for nectar, but no fossil evidence had been uncovered showing beetles in the distant past pollinating orchids until now.

The first specimen is a 0.4mm long hidden-snout beetle (subfamily Cryptorhynchinae) found in a piece of 20-45 million year old amber from the Dominican Republic. Orchid pollinaria from the Cylindrocites browni can be seen attached to its thorax.

Larvae breed in stems or wood and the adults are known to visit flowers. Cryptorhynchinae were quite diverse in the Dominican amber forest, say experts in the report.

The other specimen was a toe-winged beetle (family Ptilodactylidae) that was found in a piece of 22-26 million year old Mexican amber. This toe-winged beetle (1.4 mm in length) had pollinaria from an orchid described as Annulites mexicana attached to the body.

No current-day hidden-snout beetles have been seen visiting orchid plants, and no current-day toe-winged beetles have been seen with pollinaria.

Another clipping to add the amazing role of orchids in science. 

As I sit here, on a constant vigil to stop beetles eating my patio lilies, I wonder if beetles consumed orchids, too.