Tiny beetles that feed on fruit from the palm family may have developed their taste for coconuts long ago, according to a Penn State-led team of scientists studying suspected insect damage in a 60-million-year-old fossil.
"We found this remarkable fossil coconut that has clear signs of insect tunneling," said L. Alejandro Giraldo, a graduate student in geosciences at Penn State. "After studying the damage in detail, we were able to pinpoint the insect culprit: a group of beetles commonly referred to as palm bruchines that today still eat lots of palm fruit -- coconuts included."
The findings represent the earliest fossil evidence of seed beetles feeding on palm fruit and shed new light on the Neotropical rainforests that emerged in modern day South America following the Cretaceous-Paleogene extinction event 66 million years ago that wiped out the dinosaurs and reshaped life on Earth, the scientists said.
"These were the first Neotropical forests as we know them today," said Giraldo, whose adviser is Peter Wilf, professor of geosciences at Penn State. "We know these forests had similar plants compared to today, and the next step is knowing what was happening to these forests -- for example how insects were interacting with the plants."