Discovered 99 million years old bioluminescent beetle fossil

The beetle, known by the Latin name Cretophengods, was found fossilized in a piece of amber in northern Myanmar. The tropical location during the Cretaceous period was full of insect life, said study author Chenyang Kai, who is an associate professor at the Nanjing Institute of Geology and Palaeontology at the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Beijing.

Cretophengodes beetles roamed the tropical forests of Southeast Asia during the Cretaceous period, about 100 million years ago.

“Even we have dinosaur records from the same amber deposits that were found in the cratophengods,” Cai said.

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The insect had 12 segments in each antenna, but Cai’s eye-catching light organ was located in her abdomen. That organ gave beetle bioluminescence, the ability for a living organism to produce its own light, Cai said.

Modern-day insects such as fireflies and glowworms are part of the Elertoidea, the same superfamily animal taxonomy that the beetle is from.

Cretophengodes is one of the oldest bioluminescent beetles found, so it gives researchers insight into the early evolutionary building blocks of this superfoli.

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It is not known whether the beetles were biochemical, but based on relatives, Cai speculates that the function was used as a defense mechanism. Today, some young beetle larvae in the same superfamily have used light to protect themselves from predators, and adults are known to use their lighting abilities.

Modern-day fireflies produce light through chemical reactions in their bodies. When a series of ingredients including the compound luciferin and the enzyme luciferase interact with oxygen, it produces a twinkling light.
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Study author Eric Tihelka, a paleontology student at the School of Earth Sciences at the University of Bristol in the United Kingdom, said he wanted to spend time researching what predators did to the development of biolumination in the Cretaceous Tattle. His hypothesis includes digging up bird-like dinosaurs and animals fed on the forest floor.

“I find it fascinating that we can spare the glow of the firefly for an ancient hunter-hunting arms race with dinosaurs,” Tihelka said.


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