Insects and fungi have a long history of association in shared habitats. Fungus-feeding, or mycophagy, is remarkably widespread in beetles (Coleoptera) and appears to be a primitive feeding habit that preceded feeding on plant tissues. Numerous Mesozoic beetles belonging to extant fungus-associated families are known, but direct fossil evidence elucidating mycophagy in insects has remained elusive. Here, we report a remarkable genus and species, Vetuproteinus cretaceus gen. et sp. nov., belonging to a new tribe (Vetuproteinini trib. nov.) of the extant rove beetle subfamily Proteininae (Staphylinidae) in Mid-Cretaceous Burmese amber. The mouthparts of this beetle have a markedly enlarged protruding galea bearing an apparent spore brush, a specialized structure we infer was used to scrape spores off surfaces and direct them into the mouth, as in multiple modern spore-feeding beetles. Considering the long evolutionary history of Fungi, the Mid-Cretaceous beetles likely fed on ancient Basidiomycota and/or Ascomycota fungi or spore-producing organisms such as slime moulds (Myxomycetes). The discovery of the first Mesozoic proteinine illustrates the antiquity of the subfamily, and suggests that ancestral Proteininae were already diverse and widespread in Pangaea before the supercontinent broke up.
Electronic supplementary material is available online at https://dx.doi.org/10.6084/m9.figshare.c.3593732.
- Received June 25, 2016.
- Accepted November 16, 2016.
- © 2016 The Author(s)
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