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52-million-year-old ‘ant-loving’ beetle caught in amber

beetle-in-amber

The beetle Protoclaviger trichodens got trapped in this piece of amber in India 52 million years ago. (J. Parker | AMNH)

A newly discovered 52-million-year-old fossil of an “ant-loving” beetle is the oldest example of its species on record, and may help researchers learn more about this social parasite, a new study finds.

Like its descendants living today, the ancient beetle was likely a myrmecophile, a species that depends on ants for survival. The prehistoric beetle probably shared living quarters with ants and benefited from their hard work by eating ant eggs and taking the ants’ resources.

Other myrmecophiles include the lycaenid butterfly, which lays its eggs in carpenter ants’ nests, tricking the ants into caring for their young; and the paussine ground beetle, which also dupes ants by living alongside them as it preys on the ants’ young and workers. [The 10 Most Diabolical and Disgusting Parasites]

The beetles’ and butterflies’ shared parasitic behavior suggests that myrmecophily (ant love) is an ancient evolutionary phenomenon, the researchers said. But the fossil record of such creatures is poor, making it unclear how and when this practice arose, they added.

The amber-encased beetle, now known as Protoclaviger trichodens, and other stealth beetles began to diversify just as modern ants became more abundant in prehistoric times, the researchers found.

“Although ants are an integral part of most terrestrial ecosystems today, at the time that this beetle was walking the Earth, ants were just beginning to take off, and these beetles were right there inside the ant colonies, deceiving them and exploiting them,” beetle specialist and lead researcher Joseph Parker, a research associate at the American Museum of Natural History and postdoctoral researcher at Columbia University, said in a statement.

There are roughly 370 known beetle species that belong to the Clavigeritaegroup, myrmecophiles that are about 0.04 to 0.12 inches long. But many more myrmecophile beetles are likely awaiting discovery, Parker said.”This tells us something not just about the beetles, but also about the ants their nests were big enough and resource-rich enough to be worthy of exploitation by these super-specialized insects,” Parker explained. “And when ants exploded ecologically and began to dominate, these beetles exploded with them.”

Sneaky beetles

The beetles use a sneaky strategy to bypass the high security surrounding ant nests. Ants rely on pheromones to recognize intruders, which they then dismember and eat. In a feat that continues to mystify scientists, Clavigeritaebeetles are able to pass through this smelling system and participate in colony life. [Mind Control: See Photos of Zombie Ants]

“Adopting this lifestyle brings lots of benefits,” Parker said. “These beetles live in a climate-controlled nest that is well protected against predators, and they have access to a great deal of food, including the ants’ eggs and brood, and most remarkably, liquid food regurgitated directly to their mouths by the worker ants themselves.”

The beetles have evolved to look a certain way to reap these benefits, he said.

Clavigeritaebeetles look nothing like their close relatives. The segments within their abdomens and antennas are fused, likely to provide protection against worker ants, which are somehow tricked into carrying the beetles around the nest. Eventually, the worker ants carry the beetles to the brood galleries, where the beetles feast on eggs and larvae, Parker said.

The beetles also have recessed mouthparts, which make it easy for them to receive liquid food from worker ants. They also coat their bodies with oily secretions from brushlike glands that may encourage the ants to “adopt” them, in lieu of attacking them. But the chemical makeup of these secretions is unknown.

“If you watch one of these beetles interact inside an ant colony, you’ll see the ants running up to it and licking those brushlike structures,” Parker said.

Rare beetle find

Yet it’s rare to encounter Clavigeritaebeetles in the wild, making the new specimen which is possibly the first fossil of this group to be uncovered a valuable find.

Researchers named it Protoclaviger trichodens, from the Greek word prtos(“first”) and claviger (“club bearer”). To describe its tufts of hair, the research team used the Greek word trchas (“hair”) and the Latin word dens (“prong”).

The fossil, from the Eocene epoch (about 56 million years ago to 34 million years ago), is an amber deposit from what was once a rich rainforest in India. The body may look like that of modern Clavigeritaebeetles, but two hooklike brushes on top of its abdomen, called trichomes, give it a primitive appearance, the researchers said. Also, Protoclaviger‘s abdominal segments are still separate, unlike the fused-together segments in today’s beetles.

Protoclaviger is a truly transitional fossil,” Parker said. “It marks a big step along the pathway that led to the highly modified social parasites we see today, and it helps us figure out the sequence of events that led to this sophisticated morphology.”

The study was published today Oct. 2 in the journal Current Biology.

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Some Times Your Number is Just Up…

When you are out fishing in the middle of a river, and a tiger jumps up and kills you, it was pretty much your time.  You can prepare for a lot of deaths, but tiger attack while fishing is not usually anticipated…

Tiger leaps onto boat, snatches man in swamp in India

India Tigers Attack_Leff.jpg

April 26, 2014 – Royal Bengal tiger prowls in Sunderbans, at the Sunderban delta, about 80 miles south of Calcutta, India. An Indian fisherman says a tiger has snatched a man off a fishing boat and dragged him away into a mangrove swamp.AP

A Bengal tiger snatched a man off a fishing boat in eastern India, dragging him away into a mangrove swamp as his children looked on in horror, the man’s son said Friday.

The attack happened Thursday as Sushil Manjhi and his son and daughter were crab fishing in a stream in the Sunderbans National Park. The tiger leaped aboard the boat and clamped its jaws on Manjhi’s neck, said Sushil’s son, Jyotish.

The tiger “quickly flung my father on his back and gave a giant leap before disappearing into the forest,” Jyotish said by telephone from his village of Lahiripur in West Bengal state. He said he and his sister tried to beat the animal with sticks and a knife, but the thrashing had no effect. His father was dragged away and was presumed dead.

The attack underlines the difficult existence of millions of poor Indians who make a living by scavenging in forests and rivers, often at risk from wild predators. Many villagers fish for crabs in the Sunderbans — even though it’s illegal in the protected reserve — because they fetch a good price at markets in nearby towns.

The national park is one of the largest reserves for the royal Bengal tiger. Thursday’s attack was the fourth deadly assault by a tiger this year in the Sunderbans, wildlife officials said.

India has more than half of the 3,200 tigers believed to be left in the wild in the world. But as the country undergoes breakneck development to accommodate the growth of its 1.2 billion people, tiger habitats have been shrinking.

The big cat’s numbers have also dwindled because of rampant poaching to feed a flourishing market for tiger organs and bones in China.

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10th Century Chand Baori, India Well is Amazing!

An Amazing Well with 13 floors and 3500 steps

Chand Baori stepwell in India

Chand Baori, in the village of Abhaneri near Bandikui, Rajasthan. Stepwells, also called bawdi or baoli are in essence wells in which the water can be reached by descending a set of steps. They may be covered and protected, and are often of architectural significance. Chand Baori well is 30 meters deep, it has 13 floors and 3,500 steps.

Chand Baori stepwell in India

Built back in the 10th century, the incredible well of Chand Baori, India was a practical solution to the water problem in the area. The arid climate forced the locals to dig deep for a dependable water source, one that would last throughout an entire year. Legends say that ghosts build it in one night and that it has so many steps to make it impossible for someone to retrieve a coin once it’s been dropped in the well.

Chand Baori stepwell in India

Chand Baori stepwell in India

Chand Baori stepwell in India

Chand Baori stepwell in India

Chand Baori stepwell in India

Chand Baori stepwell in India

Chand Baori stepwell in India

Chand Baori stepwell in India

Chand Baori stepwell in India

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British Crown Jewel Will Not Be Returned

Koh-i-Noor Diamond, British Crown Jewel, Will Not Be Returned, Cameron Tells India (PHOTOS)

Reuters  |  Posted: 02/20/2013 11:30 pm EST  |  Updated: 02/21/2013 10:40 am EST

 
Kohinoor Diamond
AMRITSAR, India, Feb 21 (Reuters) – British Prime Minister David Cameron says a giant diamond his country forced India to hand over in the colonial era that was set in a royal crown will not be returned.

Speaking on the third and final day of a visit to India aimed at drumming up trade and investment, Cameron ruled out handing back the 105-carat Koh-i-Noor diamond, now on display in the Tower of London. The diamond had been set in the crown of the current Queen Elizabeth’s late mother.

One of the world’s largest diamonds, some Indians – including independence leader Mahatma Gandhi’s grandson – have demanded its return to atone for Britain’s colonial past.

“I don’t think that’s the right approach,” Cameron told reporters on Wednesday after becoming the first serving British prime minister to voice regret about one of the bloodiest episodes in colonial India, a massacre of unarmed civilians in the city of Amritsar in 1919.

Executive Director of Jewels de Paragon (JDP) Pavana Kishore shows the 'Koh-I-Noor' diamond on display with other famous diamonds at an exhibition intitled '100 World Famous Diamonds' in Bangalore 19 May 2002. The Koh-I-Noor diamond, which once belonged to Mughal Emperor Shah Jehan, weighs 105.60 Carats and is part of the British crown jewels, stored in the tower of London. (STR/AFP/Getty Images)

Executive Director of Jewels de Paragon (JDP) Pavana Kishore shows the ‘Koh-I-Noor’ diamond on display with other famous diamonds at an exhibition intitled ‘100 World Famous Diamonds’ in Bangalore 19 May 2002. The Koh-I-Noor diamond, which once belonged to Mughal Emperor Shah Jehan, weighs 105.60 Carats and is part of the British crown jewels, stored in the tower of London. (STR/AFP/Getty Images

“It is the same question with the Elgin Marbles,” he said, referring to the classical Greek marble sculptures that Athens has long demanded be given back.

“The right answer is for the British Museum and other cultural institutions to do exactly what they do, which is to link up with other institutions around the world to make sure that the things which we have and look after so well are properly shared with people around the world.

“I certainly don’t believe in ‘returnism’, as it were. I don’t think that’s sensible.”

Britain’s then colonial governor-general of India arranged for the huge diamond to be presented to Queen Victoria in 1850.

If Kate Middleton, the wife of Prince William, who is second in line to the throne, eventually becomes queen consort she will don the crown holding the diamond on official occasions.

When Elizabeth II made a state visit to India to mark the 50th anniversary of India’s independence from Britain in 1997, many Indians demanded the return of the diamond.

Cameron is keen to tap into India’s economic rise, but says he is anxious to focus on the present and future rather than “reach back” into the past. (Reporting By Andrew Osborn; Editing by Michael Roddy)

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