A 99-million-year-old beetle that researchers recently discovered has unlocked the evolutionary puzzle that needed to be solved in terms of how these little animals got their light abilities.
According to a CNN report, the discovery specified in a study published in The Royal Society journal now answers the questions about these bioluminescent insects, which has long fascinated scientists despite the little knowledge about their capabilities.
The beetle discovered, Latin name Cretophengodes, was detected "fossilized in a piece of amber in Northern Myanmar."
Chengyan Cai, a Nanjing Institute of Geology and Paleontology professor at the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Beijing said that the tropical site was filled with insect life during the Cretaceous period.
Cai, also the study author added, they even have "records of dinosaur remains" from the similar amber deposit "the Cretophengodes was found in."
Each of the antennae of the insect was found to have 12 segments that branched off it, although what caught the study author's eye was the light organ snuggled into its abdomen.
Cai explained, that organ provided the beetle bioluminescence with "the ability for a living organism to produce its own light."
Modern-day insects, which include fireflies and glowworms, are a part of Elateroidea, a similar classification of superfamily animals that newly discovered beetle comes from.
Essentially, cretophengodes is one of the oldest bioluminescent beetles to be discovered, and thus, provides researchers with an understanding of the "early evolutionary building blocks" of such a superfamily.
Reason Beetles Being Bioluminiscent Remains Unknown
The reason for the beetles being bioluminescent remains unknown although based on relatives, the study author suspected that the function was utilized as a protective mechanism.
To date, a number of young beetle larvae in the same superfamily are found to have used light to shield themselves from predators. More so, adult bees have been known for using their light abilities to attract mates.
Moreover, as indicated in the study, modern-day fireflies produce light via a chemical reaction in their body.
When a set of ingredients which includes the compound luciferin, as well as the enzyme luciferase are interacting with oxygen, it produce a flickering light.
Erik Tihelka, study author and a paleobiology student at the School of Earth Sciences at the University of Bristol in the United Kingdom said, he wants to spend time for research on what predators were driving evolution of bioluminescence in Cretaceous beetles.
Among his hypotheses have comprised birdlike dinosaurs and digging animals that were feeding on the forest floor. Tihelka explained, he finds it fascinating that "we may ow the glow of fireflies to an ancient predator-prey arms race with dinosaurs."
Similar to fireflies, a luminescent beetle is characterized by light-producing organs. Such organs are under this insect and provide it with a "blue-green yellow" light.
According to InsectIdentification, "bioluminescent is not widespread in the insect world." Therefore, having it makes the said beetle very special.
As mentioned, its ability to use its "light" capabilities helps the insect move away from certain threats like predators. Like all beetles, the luminescent beetle can also fly.
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