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Earliest Pollinator?

Enlarge Image credit: WENYING WU MORE IMAGES

Which came first, the flower or the bee? Flowering plants (angiosperms) evolved to attract insects some 99.6 million to 65.5 million years ago, about the same time as the bugs that were pollinating them. But a new paper, published online Thursday in Science, proposes that one ancient fly was spreading plant pollen some 160 million years ago—way before there were any flamboyant blossoms.

Extinct members of the scorpion fly family had an impressive protrusion on their heads that may have been specially adapted to harvest nectar from gymnosperms, such as ferns and pines. The authors of the paper analyzed 11 species of ancient scorpion flies. They found that among all these species the fly's head had an approximately 10-millimeter-long proboscis, which researchers propose was used as a straw for sipping nectar from these flowerless plants.

The fossil specimen pictured here, a Lichnomesopsyche gloriae, was from the late middle Jurassic and found in northeastern China. It is now housed at the Capital Normal University in Beijing.

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