Rare fossil flowers and parasitic wasps create works of art from amber

Fossil research by Oregon State University has revealed a neat fusion of art and science: a long-stemmed flower from a newly described plant species encased in a 30-million-year-old tomb along with a parasitic wasp. Credit: George Poinar Jr., Oregon State University

Fossil research by Oregon State University has revealed a neat fusion of art and science: a long-stemmed flower from a newly described plant species encased in a 30-million-year-old tomb along with a parasitic wasp.

“Based on interests, background and current environment, everyone has their own way of interpreting visual images in the natural world,” said George Poinar Jr. of the OSU College of Science. “Thus, an organism can be described, given a scientific name, and then stored in a taxonomic hierarchy. The same organism can be viewed as an art object and even assigned to a particular art period.”

Poinar’s study, published in Historical biologyreported the first description of a fossil flower of the family Euphorbiaceae in amber, in this case amber from the Dominican Republic, home to some of the purest fossilized tree resins in the world.

Members of the Euphorbiaceae, also known as the milkweed family, grow worldwide, with 105 of the 300 genera and 1,800 species found in the tropical regions of the Americas.

“Fossil flowers of members of this family are quite rare,” Poinar said. “I have been able to find only one previously known fossil from sedimentary deposits in Tennessee.”

Examples of members of this family include the rubber tree, the castor oil plant, and the poinsettia. Many members contain a milky latex, while some species are useful as a source of oil or wax.

Poinard, an international expert in using plant and animal life forms preserved in amber to learn about the biology and ecology of the distant past, named the new flower Plukenetia minima. This is the first record of the genus Plukenetia on the island of Hispaniola, home to Haiti and the Dominican Republic, and also the first fossil record of the genus.

Poinar said the mature female flower is notable for its small size but long stalk, which has four distinct capsules at the tip.

The wasp, Hambletonia dominicana, was described by Poinar as a new species in a separate paper published in 2020. Biosis: Biological Systems. It is an encyrtid, a group of wasps known for attacking a wide range of insects.

In the present study, the flower had already flowered and contained four mature seed pods or capsules. One of the pods contains a developing fly larva.

“In many cases, unrelated organisms are buried together in amber just by chance,” Poinar said. “But I feel that in this case the wasp was attracted to the flower either to obtain nectar or in an attempt to lay an egg on the capsule which contained the larva of the fly.”

The wasp egg will then hatch, enter the pod and ingest the fly larva, Poinar said, allowing the wasp to survive in the ecological niche created by the Plukenetia vegetation and flower heads.

“Both fossils can be associated with two 20thcentury art movements that emerged in fine art, design and architecture,” Poinar said. “The ‘small’ flower represents the Art Nouveau style, which emphasized elegant curves and long lines. The ‘dancing’ wasp represents the Art Deco style, which emphasizes sharp angles and decorative shapes.”


Say hello to the venerable midshipman wasp, killing cockroaches for 25 million years


More info:
George Poinard, Plukenetia minima sp. november (Euphorbiaceae) in the Dominican Republic amber, Historical biology (2022). DOI: 10.1080/08912963.2022.2086053

George Poinard, A New Species of Hambletonia Compere (Hymenoptera: Encyrtidae) in Dominican Amber, Biosis: Biological Systems (2020). DOI: 10.37819/biosis.001.04.0070

Provided by Oregon State University

Quote: Buried together: Rare fossil flowers and parasitic wasp create works of art from amber (2022, July 11), Retrieved July 11, 2022, from https://phys.org/news/2022-07-entombed-rare -fossil-parasitic-wasp.html

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