A group of scientists from Chicago’s Field Museum has discovered an ancient beetle trapped inside a piece of amber that could change the perception of insect evolution, according to a new study published in the journal Cretaceous Research.
The incredibly small insect — known as Kekveus jason — became trapped in amber 99 million years ago. It measures just 0.536 millimeters long and had small feathery fringes on its winds that suggest it had the ability to float like a para-glider. That feature, called “featherwings” is present in some modern species as well.
Paleontologists first uncovered the unique beetle in Hukawng Valley in northern Myanmar. At first the team thought the small speck could be dust. However, after multiple days of cutting and polishing, they found that it was indeed a beetle.
Small insects like K. jason have no bones. As a result, they rarely become fossilized in the same way larger animals do. The only way to get a look at ancient insects is to find ones that became trapped inside fossilized tree resin.
While scientists are not sure where the tiny beetle sits on the evolutionary tree, they do plan to put it in a distinct genus once more research is done. All they know for now is that it belongs in the phylogenetic group Ptiliidae, which includes many species of modern “feathering” beetles.
However, that fact is important because it completely changes what scientists understand about the group. Previously, researchers did not know that certain members got as small as K. Jason during the mid-Cretaceous period. That could then alter future research and give a glimpse back into a lesser-known period of Earth’s ancient history.