99 Million Year Old 'Gliding' Beetle Found Preserved in Amber

You need a microscope to see the details of Kekveus jason, a tiny beetle that was trapped in amber 99 million years ago. Scientists recently discovered the 0.536-millimeter creature, and found that it has feathery fringes on its wings so that it can float like a paraglider.

The species name “Jason” is in reference to the Greek hero from Jason and the Argonauts, who sailed around the world (and then crashed his ship into a rock.) This beetle, like some species’ of beetle alive today, had gliding “featherwings.” Researchers at The Field Museum in Chicago published a study on the creature in the journal Cretaceous Research.

BeetleAmber No, it's not that big bug. It's that little dot by the pencil tip. Shuhei Yamamoto, Field Museum

Without amber, it’s unlikely that scientists would have ever discovered this long-extinct creature. Tiny insects are fragile and have no bones, and they rarely fossilized in the same way that larger animals like dinosaurs did. The chance that remains of any animal could leave an impression that would last millions of years is slim, and noticing the fossil of something the size of a period at the end of a sentence would be nearly impossible. However, that’s where amber, fossilized tree resin that sometimes captures plants and animals, comes in, preserving ancient flora and fauna with incredible detail.

Miners excavate ancient amber by the tons in Myanmar, mostly to be cut and sold as jewelry. However, sometimes this amber yields well-preserved bits of animals from the the dinosaur era, like a dinosaur tail, dinosaur feathers and even ticks that may have once contained dinosaur blood, just like in Jurassic Park.

The researchers gave Kekveus jason a temporary, meaningless genus name, because they believed that it likely would be put into another genus later. However, they know that it is in the phylogenetic group Ptiliidae, which includes many species of modern “featherwing” beetles. This discovery changes what we know about the evolution of this group, demonstrating that some members of this species became exceptionally small at least as long ago as the mid-Cretaceous.

Dinosaurs lived between 254 million and 66 million years ago, so the 99 million-year-old amber formed during the dinosaur era.

“This tiny beetle lived during the Cretaceous Period, it saw actual dinosaurs,” The Field Museum’s Shuhei Yamamoto said in a press release. “The amber the beetle was found in is like a time capsule.”

Join the Discussion