Fossilised cockroach sperm preserved in 30,000,000-year-old amber

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Fossilised cockroach sperm preserved in 30,000,000-year-old amber
Fossilised cockroach sperm preserved in 30,000,000-year-old amber

Supella dominicana encased in amber is probably 30 million years old (Credit: George Poinar Jr.)
Supella dominicana encased in amber is probably 30 million years old (Credit: George Poinar Jr.)

A US scientist has discovered a new species of cockroach dating back to around 30 million years.

What makes the discovery even more noteworthy is this roach has been found with sperm cells still inside it.

Encased in amber and found in the Dominican Republic, the insect has been christened Supella dominicana by entomologist George Poinar Jr.

‘It is well preserved with a yellow cross bar across the wings and a central, vertical, yellow stripe that appears to divide the body into two parts,’ he said.

‘It has long spines, used for defense, on its legs, especially the hind legs. Also of interest is the sperm bundle containing spermatozoa with dark acrosomes, structures covering the head of the sperm, since fossil sperm are rare.’

It’s believed to be the first ever record of fossilised cockroach sperm.

Poiner, a professor emeritus at the Oregon State University College of Science, is an expert in using plant and animal life forms preserved in amber to learn about the biology and ecology of the distant past.

He says it’s not clear why this particular species of cockroach isn’t around any longer when modern-day roaches have such tenacity for survival.

The roach was encased in amber with sperm cells still intact (Credit: George Poinar Jr.)
The roach was encased in amber with sperm cells still intact (Credit: George Poinar Jr.)

In fact, there are currently around 4,000 species of cockroach on earth. Only about 30 of these come into contact with humans and an even smaller amount are actually regarded as pests.

But they’re still pretty indestructable when you do come into contact with them. The creatures can survive sub-zero temperatures, happily wander through decaying matter and withstand pressure of up to 900 times their bodyweight.

They also harbour viruses and pathogens that can prove deadly to humans.

‘They are considered medically important insects since they are carriers of human pathogens, including bacteria that cause salmonella, staphylococcus and streptococcus, Poiner said. 

‘Many might say that the best place for a cockroach is entombed in amber.’


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