CORVALLIS, Ore. It appears that chemical warfare has been around a lot longer than poison arrows, mustard gas or nerve weapons about 100 million years, give or take a little.
A new study by researchers at Oregon State University has identified a soldier beetle, preserved almost perfectly in amber, which was in the process of using chemical repellants to fight off an attacker when an oozing flow of sap preserved the struggle for eternity.
The discovery is the earliest fossil record of a chemical defense response, scientists say, and indicates that this type of protective mechanism now common in the insect world and among other animal species has been around for more than 100 million years. Its a sophisticated form of defense that clearly was in good working order while dinosaurs still roamed the Earth.
The findings were just published in the Journal of Chemical Ecology.
The chance of these circumstances all coming together at the exact right second was pretty slim, said George Poinar, Jr., a courtesy professor of zoology at OSU and one of the worlds leading experts on distant life forms preserved in amber. You have a prehistoric insect being attacked, using its defenses to ward off the predator and the whole event becoming captured in action as sap flowed down a tree. Its quite remarkable.
The beetle was a small insect, about one-quarter inch long, which may have been in the process of becoming lunch for a giant roach or some other larger insect that apparently was 2-3 inches long, judging by the length of an antenna from the other insect also found in the specimen. The other insect either escaped the sap or was preserved in a different piece of amber, in these samples of Burmese amber that came from the Hukawng Valley in Myanmar.
This particular insect is now extinct, but the broader family of soldier beetles still exists, and they still use this same type of chemical defense mechanism, Poinar said. Th
|Contact: George Poinar|
Oregon State University