A very odd looking beetle that looked like a walking scrub brush lived about 100 million years ago during the Cretaceous period. This newly identified genus and species of cylindrical bark beetle has been named Stegastochlidus saraemcheana (in Greek, “stegastos” means covered, and “chlidos” means ornament). It was preserved in amber that was found in the Hukawng Valley in the northern part of Myanmar.
In a statement issued by Oregon State University, George Poinar Jr., who is a paleobiologist and entomologist at the university as well as a co-author of the study, explained what type of life this insect may have lived, “The beetle must have spent its life among moss, lichens and fungi, either attached to tree trunks or on the forest floor,” adding, “He is hiding under a spectacular camouflage of his own making, allowing him to blend into a mossy background.” It was certainly a “master of disguise”.
While the entire beetle was only 0.17 inches in length (or 4.3 millimeters), it still had over 100 spike-like features on its head and back. As for the purpose of the spike-like features, it is believed that they aided the insect to blend in with moss, lichens and fungi. Poinar explained this further by stating, “A close association with fungi is indicated by strands of fungal spores, known as conidia, attached to the beetle’s cuticle, or outer covering.” In addition to the fungal spores, two parasitic mites were attached to the beetle and while they were feeding on the insect, they too became trapped in the amber.
The beetle is so unusual looking that it’s hard to tell where its head is located. When looking at the insect from above, its round tuft-like head extends from its tubular body and is covered in spike-like features with two antennae coming out of it. When looking at it from the side, the head is at one end of the beetle with its mid legs and forelegs not far behind it while its hind legs are situated further back on its body but in front of its cylindrical abdomen. (Pictures of the beetle from both viewpoints can be seen here.)
Based on its pointed mouthparts, it is believed that the beetle was a carnivore and probably feasted on other invertebrates as well as pupae and larvae.
Poinar went on to note, “This discovery represents a new variation of form and structure within this family of beetles, and finding fungi attached to the body of the fossil beetle provides important information on the possible habitats, likely tropical and moist, visited by Cretaceous cylindrical bark beetles.”
The study was published in the journal Biosis: Biological Systems where it can be read in full.