Dinosaur-era insect pollination discovery

Reconstruction of Gymnospollisthrips with pollen attached to the body over an ovulate organ of a gingko. CREDIT: Enrique Peñalver, IGME

By Jeanna Bryner, LiveScience Managing Editor:

Dino-Era Insects Frozen in Time During Oldest Pollination

As dinosaurs loomed overhead, tiny female insects had just dusted themselves with pollen grains when they perished.

Tue May 15, 2012 10:11 AM ET


Amber preserved the earliest evidence of insect pollination.

The insects, called thrips, lived during the dinosaur age and had dusted themselves with pollen.

With massive dinosaurs towering above, tiny female insects called thrips had just dusted themselves with hundreds of pollen grains from a gingko tree more than 100 million years ago when they perished, only to be preserved in tree resin called amber.

The discovery, detailed this week in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, is the oldest known record of insect pollination.

(Pollination occurs when either the wind or an animal, mostly insects, deliver pollen from a plant’s male reproductive organ to the female parts either on the same plant or another one.)

During the lower Cretaceous Period when the newly discovered thrips lived, flowering plants would have just started to diversify, eventually replacing conifers as the dominant species, the researchers said.

“This is the oldest direct evidence for pollination, and the only one from the age of the dinosaurs,” study researcher Carmen Soriano said in a statement. “The co-evolution of flowering plants and insects, thanks to pollination, is a great evolutionary success story.”

Soriano and an international team of scientists studying the two pieces of amber, which were discovered in what is now northern Spain, say the specimens date back between 110 million and 105 million years ago. [Photos of the Ancient Pollinators]

They found six female thrips, also called thysanopterans, enclosed in the amber, with hundreds of pollen grains attached to their tiny bodies — the insects are just 2 millimeters long. The thrips, the researchers found, belong to a new genus now named Gymnopollisthrips, with two new species, G. minor and G. major.

After the amber pieces’ initial discovery, they were then kept in a collection of the Museo de Ciencias Naturales de Álava in Spain.

To get a closer look at the pollination event frozen in time, the team used synchrotron X-ray tomography at the European Synchrotron Radiation Facility (ESRF), focusing on the most representative of the amber-encapsulated thrips. In synchrotron X-ray tomography, charged particles are sent speeding through magnetic fields; these particles release high-energy light that can then pierce opaque materials to reveal three-dimensional, high-resolution images.

The images revealed various features of the pollen grains, together suggesting the grains came from a kind of cycad, or gingko, tree, the researchers said. Gingkos have separate male and female trees, with males producing small pollen cones and females bearing ovules at the ends of stalks that develop into seeds after pollination.

The researchers wondered what these pollen transporters would’ve gotten in return for their services so long ago. The benefit must have been the opportunity to pick up pollen food for the thrips’ larvae, said the researchers, adding that this benefit would have nudged the emergence of the ringed hairs specialized for pollen transport.

“Thrips might indeed turn out to be one of the first pollinator groups in geological history, long before evolution turned some of them into flower pollinators,” Soriano said.

See also here. And here.

11 thoughts on “Dinosaur-era insect pollination discovery

  1. Pingback: Fossil embracing turtles discovery | Dear Kitty. Some blog

  2. Pingback: Oldest insects in amber discovery | Dear Kitty. Some blog

  3. Pingback: Bumblebee Christmas video | Dear Kitty. Some blog

  4. Pingback: Flowering plants evolution and Charles Darwin | Dear Kitty. Some blog

  5. Pingback: Bees, birds and yellow flowers | Dear Kitty. Some blog

  6. Pingback: Gingko biloba trees and chemistry | Dear Kitty. Some blog

  7. Pingback: Ticks drank dinosaur blood | Dear Kitty. Some blog

  8. Pingback: Dinosaur age flowers older than thought | Dear Kitty. Some blog

  9. Pingback: Dinosaur extinction fossils discovery | Dear Kitty. Some blog

  10. Pingback: Dinosaur age plants and dinosaur age climate | Dear Kitty. Some blog

  11. Pingback: Dinosaur age pollinating insects, new research | Dear Kitty. Some blog

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.