Nav: Home

Tiny paragliding beetle that lived with dinosaurs discovered in amber, named 'Jason'

June 07, 2018

Featherwing beetles are smaller than the period at the end of this sentence. They get their name from the feathery fringe on their wings that enables them to catch the air and float like dandelion seeds. And, it turns out, they go way back-- scientists discovered a 99-million-year-old featherwing beetle preserved in amber, and they named it "Jason."

"This tiny beetle lived during the Cretaceous Period, it saw actual dinosaurs," says Shuhei Yamamoto, a researcher at the Field Museum in Chicago and co-lead author of a paper describing the beetle in Cretaceous Research. "The amber the beetle was found in is like a time capsule."

The new beetle, the earliest member of its family to get a scientific name, is called Kekveus jason. "Jason" is a reference to the Greek hero who sailed the world in search of the Golden Fleece; "Kekveus," meanwhile, doesn't mean anything--co-lead author Vasily Grebennikov of the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, picked it because new genus names for little-known fossils often wind up changing when the species is later reclassified as scientists learn more about it. "From my perspective I always believe that an animal name should not have any meaning (except when named after a person), since if the authors are wrong, it might be odd to have later species 'chinensis' endemic to Europe, or something similarly absurd," says Grebennikov.

Yamamoto discovered the tiny sailing insect by poring over pieces of amber. Amber is made from fossilized resin, a sap-like substance produced by plants. When prehistoric insects got trapped in resin, their bodies would get incorporated into the amber that formed--think the mosquitos from Jurassic Park, minus the "resurrecting dinosaurs" part.

When Yamamoto spotted a tiny black speck in the amber, he was cautiously optimistic that he'd found a prehistoric insect. "I didn't have much confidence at first, but after cutting and polishing the amber so I could get a better look, I realized, oh, this is truly an amazing fossil," he says.

The beetle is only 0.536 millimeters long--it's dwarfed by the tip of a mechanical pencil. But under a microscope, Yamamoto was able to glean details of its anatomy that revealed it as a different species and genus from living featherwing beetles. For instance, it has three grooves running like pinstripes up its body, a feature not found on its modern cousins. Overall, though, the researchers found that K. jason has a lot in common with featherwings alive today, meaning that the family of beetles evolved features like a tiny body size and fringed wings millions of years ago. According to Yamamoto, amber fossils yield a level of preservation rarely found in regular rock, especially for insects. "There are many rock fossils from the Jurassic and Cretaceous periods, but they're limited to big animals like larger insects, mammals, dinosaurs, and birds, because small insects cannot be preserved in rock fossil very clearly. Only fossil insects in amber are preserved in fine detail, in three dimensions," says Yamamoto. Yamamoto looks forward to further discoveries of prehistoric animals preserved in amber. "It's likely that we'll find more in the future--Burmese amber is one of the hottest fossils in the world," he says. "There are so many great findings happening, literally day by day. Many important discoveries of insects will be made."
-end-
This study was contributed to by researchers from the Field Museum, the Kyushu University Museum, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, and the University of Tsukuba.

Field Museum

Related Dinosaurs Articles:

In death of dinosaurs, it was all about the asteroid -- not volcanoes
Volcanic activity did not play a direct role in the mass extinction event that killed the dinosaurs, according to an international, Yale-led team of researchers.
Discriminating diets of meat-eating dinosaurs
A big problem with dinosaurs is that there seem to be too many meat-eaters.
Jurassic dinosaurs trotted between Africa and Europe
Dinosaur footprints found in several European countries, very similar to others in Morocco, suggest that they could have been dispersed between the two continents by land masses separated by a shallow sea more than 145 million years ago.
In the shadow of the dinosaurs
Research published this Wednesday in Scientific Reports describes Clevosaurus hadroprodon, a new reptile species from Rio Grande do Sul state in southern Brazil.
When the dinosaurs died, lichens thrived
When the asteroid hit, dinosaurs weren't the only ones that suffered.
Dinosaurs were thriving before asteroid strike that wiped them out
Dinosaurs were unaffected by long-term climate changes and flourished before their sudden demise by asteroid strike.
Did volcanoes kill the dinosaurs? New evidence points to 'maybe.'
Princeton geoscientists Blair Schoene and Gerta Keller led an international team of researchers who have assembled the first high-resolution timeline for the massive eruptions in India's Deccan Traps, determining that the largest eruption pulse occurred less than 100,000 years before the mass extinction that killed the (non-avian) dinosaurs.
Want to learn about dinosaurs? Pick up some Louisiana roadkill
Scientists are able to learn about an animal's ecosystem by studying the chemical makeup of its body, whether the animal died recently or millions of years ago.
How did alvarezsaurian dinosaurs evolve monodactyl hand?
An international research team led by XU Xing from the Institute of Vertebrate Palaeontology and Palaeoanthropology announced the discovery of two new Chinese dinosaurs: Bannykus and Xiyunykus, in the journal Current Biology, which shed light on how alvarezsaurian dinosaurs reduced and lost their fingers.
Those fragrances you enjoy? Dinosaurs liked them first
The compounds behind the perfumes and colognes you enjoy have been eliciting olfactory excitement since dinosaurs walked the Earth amid the first appearance of flowering plants, new research reveals.
More Dinosaurs News and Dinosaurs Current Events

Trending Science News

Current Coronavirus (COVID-19) News

Top Science Podcasts

We have hand picked the top science podcasts of 2020.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Listen Again: Reinvention
Change is hard, but it's also an opportunity to discover and reimagine what you thought you knew. From our economy, to music, to even ourselves–this hour TED speakers explore the power of reinvention. Guests include OK Go lead singer Damian Kulash Jr., former college gymnastics coach Valorie Kondos Field, Stockton Mayor Michael Tubbs, and entrepreneur Nick Hanauer.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#562 Superbug to Bedside
By now we're all good and scared about antibiotic resistance, one of the many things coming to get us all. But there's good news, sort of. News antibiotics are coming out! How do they get tested? What does that kind of a trial look like and how does it happen? Host Bethany Brookeshire talks with Matt McCarthy, author of "Superbugs: The Race to Stop an Epidemic", about the ins and outs of testing a new antibiotic in the hospital.
Now Playing: Radiolab

Dispatch 6: Strange Times
Covid has disrupted the most basic routines of our days and nights. But in the middle of a conversation about how to fight the virus, we find a place impervious to the stalled plans and frenetic demands of the outside world. It's a very different kind of front line, where urgent work means moving slow, and time is marked out in tiny pre-planned steps. Then, on a walk through the woods, we consider how the tempo of our lives affects our minds and discover how the beats of biology shape our bodies. This episode was produced with help from Molly Webster and Tracie Hunte. Support Radiolab today at Radiolab.org/donate.