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Published April 16, 2019 | Published + Supplemental Material
Journal Article Open

A Mesozoic Clown Beetle Myrmecophile (Coleoptera: Histeridae)


Complex interspecies relationships are widespread among metazoans, but the evolutionary history of these lifestyles is poorly understood. We describe a fossil beetle in 99-million-year-old Burmese amber that we infer to have been a social impostor of the earliest-known ant colonies. Promyrmister kistneri gen. et sp. nov. belongs to the haeteriine clown beetles (Coleoptera: Histeridae), a major clade of 'myrmecophiles'—specialized nest intruders with dramatic anatomical, chemical and behavioral adaptations for colony infiltration. Promyrmister reveals that myrmecophiles evolved close to the emergence of ant eusociality, in colonies of stem-group ants that predominate Burmese amber, or with cryptic crown-group ants that remain largely unknown at this time. The clown beetle-ant relationship has been maintained ever since by the beetles host-switching to numerous modern ant genera, ultimately diversifying into one of the largest radiations of symbiotic animals. We infer that obligate behavioral symbioses can evolve relatively rapidly, and be sustained over deep time.

Additional Information

© 2019, Zhou et al. This article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use and redistribution provided that the original author and source are credited. Received: January 9, 2019. Accepted: March 11, 2019. Version of Record published: April 16, 2019. We are grateful to Alexey K Tishechkin (USDA), Michael S Caterino (Clemson University) and Alfred Newton (Field Museum) for their helpful advice on the placement of the fossil and to Margaret K Thayer (Field Museum) for a very thorough review of the paper. Phil Barden (New Jersey Institute of Technology) provided invaluable insight into the ant fossil record and possible hosts of Promyrmister. This research was supported by a Shurl and Kay Curci Foundation Research Grant, a Rita Allen Scholars Award and a Klingenstein-Simons Fellowship Award in the Neurosciences to JP, and the National Natural Science Foundation of China Grant no. 31402008 and International Postdoctoral Exchange Fellowship no. 20150064 to YLZ. Rolf Oberprieler (ANIC) and Hong Pang (Sun Yat-Sen University) helped with the fossil preparation, Lauren Ashman (ANIC) provided advice on improving the manuscript and Cate Lemann (CSIRO) provided technical assistance. Author contributions: Yu-Lingzi Zhou, Conceptualization, Data curation, Formal analysis, Investigation, Visualization, Methodology, Writing—original draft, Writing—review and editing; Adam Ślipiński , Conceptualization, Resources, Data curation, Formal analysis, Funding acquisition, Investigation, Visualization, Methodology, Writing—original draft, Project administration, Writing—review and editing; Dong Ren, Resources, Funding acquisition, Project administration; Joseph Parker, Conceptualization, Resources, Data curation, Formal analysis, Validation, Investigation, Visualization, Methodology, Writing—original draft, Project administration, Writing—review and editing Funding: National Natural Science Foundation of China (31402008) - Yu-Lingzi Zhou. International Postdoctoral Exchange Fellowship (20150064) - Yu-Lingzi Zhou. Rita Allen Foundation - Joseph Parker. Esther A. and Joseph Klingenstein Fund - Joseph Parker. Shurl & Kay Curci Foundation- Joseph Parker. The funders had no role in study design, data collection and interpretation, or the decision to submit the work for publication. Data availability: All data generated or analyzed during this study are included in the manuscript and supporting files. Source data for Figure 2, Figure 2 figure supplement 2 and Figure 2 figure supplement 3 are provided in Supplementary File 1.

Attached Files

Published - elife-44985-v1.pdf

Supplemental Material - default.jpg

Supplemental Material - elife-44985-supp1-v1.nex

Supplemental Material - elife-44985-supp2-v1.docx

Supplemental Material - elife-44985-transrepform-v1.docx


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August 19, 2023
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