Nav: Home

'Blind dates' in the amber world

October 05, 2016

"Old" doesn't always have to mean "primitive": paleontologists at the University of Bonn have discovered a tiny biting midge no larger than one millimeter in 54 million-year-old amber. The insect possesses a vesicular structure at the front edge of the wings. The researchers assume that these "pockets" were used by the female midge to collect store and spray disseminate pheromones in an unusually efficient way in order to attract sexual partnersmales. Today's biting midges use significantly simpler attractant evaporators structures for pheromone release on their abdomen. The results are now being presented in the renowned journal Scientific Reports.

Everyone is familiar with the tiny midges that pounce on you in swarms in a forest or in meadows and whose bites are incredibly painful. Biting midges are diverse and found all over the world. More than 190 species have been identified in Germany. Paleontologists at the University of Bonn, together with scientists from the Alexander Koenig Research Museum in Bonn as well as the Universities of Kassel, Gda?sk (Poland) and Lucknow (India) with the Museum for Materials Research at the Helmholtz-Zentrum Geesthacht, have now discovered and described a new species in 54 million-year-old amber.

Frauke Stebner, PhD student at the Steinmann Institute at the University of Bonn, dug for amber in India. In doing so, she came across the fossilized tree resin with its unusual, barely one millimeter-long inclusion. "Often, the insects in amber can only be identified as black marks," reports the scientist. Raw amber is as opaque as a malt lozenge. Only elaborate grinding and polishing work allowed the tiny creature to be seen. The insect could be viewed through the microscope as if through an amber window.

Researchers "X-ray" the fossil using the electron synchrotron

The tiny creature's unusual structures only revealed themselves in detail when the amber went under the microscope at the German electron synchrotron (DESY). As a three-dimensional digital model of the female biting midge shows, it possesses a unique, vesicular structure at the front edge of both of its wings. "Biting midge species alive today do not have these 'pockets' on their wings," reports Stebner. Following extensive literature research, the scientists are certain: a biting midge with this kind of wing structure has never been described before.

The structure protrudes from the wings like a bubble that is open at the bottom with an edge made from fine hairs. The scientists puzzled over the significance of this fossil, and compared it to other speciesinsects. They only found what they were looking for in highly developed butterflies. "These have very similar pockets on their front wings, which they use to spray pheromones into the air in order to attract a mate," reports Stebner. The position at the edge of the wing makes it possible to spray the messenger substance as widely as possible into the surrounding air. The small hairs clearly ensure, via turbulence, that the distribution is even more successful.

"Attractant concert" in the 54 million-year old primeval forest

Present-day biting midges use attractants for their "blind dates" - however, they do not distribute the substances from their wings but instead from their abdomen. "It is noticeable that the pheromone evaporators in the fossil are much more complex than in present-day biting midges," says Prof. Jes Rust, who supervised the dissertation by Frauke Stebner. The environmental conditions in the 54 million-year-old primeval forests in present-day India clearly made such an adaptation necessary. Presumably there were various species of insect at that time that all wanted to attract their sexual partners using pheromones. Unusually effective distribution techniques were probably necessary in order to thrive in this "pheromone concert".
-end-
Publication: A fossil biting midge (Diptera: Ceratopogonidae) from early Eocene Indian amber with a complex pheromone evaporator, Scientific Reports, DOI: 10.1038/srep34352

Media contact:

Frauke Stebner
Steinmann Institute
University of Bonn
Tel. +49 (0)228/733336
E-mail: frauke.stebner@uni-bonn.de

Prof. Dr. Jes Rust
Steinmann Institute
University of Bonn
Tel. +49 (0)228/734842
E-mail: jrust@uni-bonn.de

University of Bonn

Related Amber Articles:

Scientists find world's oldest fossil mushroom
Roughly 115 million years ago, when the ancient supercontinent Gondwana was breaking apart, a mushroom fell into a river and began an improbable journey.
Time flies: Insect fossils in amber shed light on India's geological history
Researchers have identified three new species of insects encased in Cambay amber dating from over 54 million years ago.
Researchers identify evidence of oldest orchid fossil on record
A newly published study documents evidence of an orchid fossil trapped in Baltic amber that dates back some 45 million years to 55 million years ago, shattering the previous record for an orchid fossil found in Dominican amber some 20-30 million years old.
99-million-year-old termite-loving thieves caught in Burmese amber
A research team led by NIGPAS reported the oldest, morphologically specialized, and obligate termitophiles from mid-Cretaceous Burmese amber, which represent the oldest known termitophiles, and reveal that ancient termite societies were quickly invaded by beetles about 99 million years ago.
Graphene Flagship researches create thin film transistors printed with layered materials
Graphene Flagship researchers from AMBER at Trinity College Dublin have fabricated printed transistors consisting entirely of layered materials.
Irish researchers make major breakthrough in smart printed electronics
Researchers in Ireland have fabricated printed transistors consisting entirely of 2-dimensional nanomaterials for the first time.
Monkey business produces rare preserved blood in amber fossils
Two monkeys grooming each other about 20-30 million years ago may have helped produce a remarkable new find -- the first fossilized red blood cells from a mammal, preserved so perfectly in amber that they appear to have been prepared for display in a laboratory.
Courtship behavior trapped in 100-million-year-old amber
Dr. Zheng Daran and Professor Wang Bo from Nanjing Institute of Geology and Palaeontology described three male damselflies showing ancient courtship behavior from mid-Cretaceous Burmese amber.
Intact mushroom and mycophagous rove beetle in Burmese amber leak early evolution of mushrooms
Recently, a research team led by Professor Huang Diying from Nanjing Institute of Geology and Palaeontology reported a diversity of gilled mushrooms and mycophagous rove beetles from Burmese amber, the latter belonging to Oxyporinae, modern members of which exhibit an obligate association with soft-textured mushrooms.
Specialized beetles shed light on predator-prey associations in the Cretaceous
A research team led by researchers from the Nanjing Institute of Geology and Palaeontology, Chinese Academy of Sciences (NIGPAS) found a new morphologically specialized beetle from the mid-Cretaceous Burmese amber, shedding new light on the predator-prey associations in the late Mesozoic terrestrial ecosystem.

Related Amber Reading:

Best Science Podcasts 2019

We have hand picked the best science podcasts for 2019. Sit back and enjoy new science podcasts updated daily from your favorite science news services and scientists.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Digital Manipulation
Technology has reshaped our lives in amazing ways. But at what cost? This hour, TED speakers reveal how what we see, read, believe — even how we vote — can be manipulated by the technology we use. Guests include journalist Carole Cadwalladr, consumer advocate Finn Myrstad, writer and marketing professor Scott Galloway, behavioral designer Nir Eyal, and computer graphics researcher Doug Roble.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#529 Do You Really Want to Find Out Who's Your Daddy?
At least some of you by now have probably spit into a tube and mailed it off to find out who your closest relatives are, where you might be from, and what terrible diseases might await you. But what exactly did you find out? And what did you give away? In this live panel at Awesome Con we bring in science writer Tina Saey to talk about all her DNA testing, and bioethicist Debra Mathews, to determine whether Tina should have done it at all. Related links: What FamilyTreeDNA sharing genetic data with police means for you Crime solvers embraced...