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Baltic amber contains prehistoric fossil of carnivorous plant

By
Danielle Haynes
Scientists found an example of a carnivorous flypaper trap plant encased in Baltic amber in Russia. Photo courtesy Alexander Schmidt/University of Gottingen
Scientists found an example of a carnivorous flypaper trap plant encased in Baltic amber in Russia. Photo courtesy Alexander Schmidt/University of Gottingen

MUNICH, Germany, Dec. 3 (UPI) -- German researchers have discovered what's considered the world's first example of a fossil of a carnivorous flypaper trap plant entrapped in a piece of Baltic amber.

The 35-million- to 47-million-year-old fossil was found in a mine near Kaliningrad, Russia, by researchers from the University of Gottingen, University of Bielefeld and the Botanical State Collection of Munich. The findings were detailed in an article in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America.

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Previous fossil evidence of this particular plant consisted solely of seeds and pollen of the sundew family, a release from the University of Gottingen said. The plant fossil was used by the scientists to "reconstruct the vanished Eocene flora," it said.

"The most striking features are the long-stalked multicellular glands, which are also called tentacles, covering the lower leaf surface and the margins of the leaf fossils," PhD student and lead author of the article, Eva-Maria Sadowski said.

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Those features are similar to what's found in the living Roridula plant, which is found in South Africa. This plant catches insects but doesn't digest using enzymes like other carnivorous plants. Instead, insects living in conjunction with the Roridula plant eat the insects it catches and the plant in turn obtains nutrients from the excretions of the live bugs.

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The fossil gives scientists new insights into the history of the plant.

"The new fossils from Baltic amber show that the ancestors of Roridula plants occurred in the northern hemisphere until 35 million years ago, and that they were not restricted to South Africa," Prof. Alexander Schmidt said. It was previously thought that the ancestors originated 90 million years and evolved in isolation in Africa.

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"Our results not only fill a gap in our knowledge about the historical distribution of the Roridulaceae, but also confirm molecular dating analyses, according to which the Roridulaceae exist as a distinct plant family for at least 38 million years," said Dr. Andreas Fleischmann, a carnivorous plant expert at the Botanical State Collection of Munich.

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