Forget Mummies, Researchers Discover Oldest Pollinators
As humans, we're always discovering the world around us. It could be a block or two from your neighborhood or deep in the ocean. For paleontologists, they spend time digging around in the dirt, trying to find the world's past. Most of the time, you'd think that these history finders dig up artifacts of a lost world that when put together, amass big creatures, villages and more.
Today, researchers found something a little smaller, but just as big in relation to those that study insects.
While studying amber obtained from Cretaceous-era deposits, an international team of paleontologists discovered the oldest known insects engaged in pollination. The group found 105-million to 110-million-year-old "thrips" and according to the the Los Angeles Times, were coated in pollen grains that were presumably used to feed the insects' offspring.
Thrips, which is short for Thysanopterans, are tiny, slender insects with fringed wings. The name comes from the Greek thysanos (fringed) and pteron (wing). These little old school pests eat plant tissues, but some are efficient pollinators for several species of flowering plants.
According to the report, Amber samples containing the insects were obtained from a site in the Basque-Cantabrian Basin of northern Spain, a team headed by paleontologist Enrique Penalver of the Instituto Geologico y Minero de Espana in Madrid, reported in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
The thrips that were found had hundreds of pollen grains stuck to their bodies. The exterior of the insects had highly specialized hairs with a ringed structure to increase their ability to collect pollen grains, very similar to bees.
The LA Times wrote that the "small pollen grains are believed to come from a cycad or ginkgo tree. Ginkgos are either male or female, and males produce pollen that must be transported to the female tree by wind or insects."
The researchers speculated that the thrips established colonies in the female trees and carried pollen from the male trees to feed their offspring.
"Thrips might turn out to be one of the first pollinator groups in geological history," said paleontologist Carmen Soriano of ESRF to the Times.