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J. Hinkelman, L. Vrsanska, The Science of Nature-Naturwissenschaften 10.1007 (2020)

Ancient amber contains a cockroach—and a surprise

Look closely at this piece of fossilized amber and you’ll spot something unusual: a cockroach trapped with its own feces (arrow).

The find, recovered from Myanmar’s rich amber deposits, is 99 million years old. Cockroach feces are quite common in amber samples (as are the feces of termites, which are hexagonal instead of pellet-shaped), but it is rare to find specimens in which both deposit and depositor are preserved together

In a new study, published this month in The Science of Nature-Naturwissenschaften, researchers took a much closer look at the feces than most scientists have done. Their scatology paid off: They found well-preserved pollen grains, adding to evidence that cockroaches were important pollinators of cycad trees—the ones that produced the sap that trapped this unlucky creature, a relative of today’s cockroaches. They also found protozoa and bacteria in the poop that closely resemble microorganisms present in termite and cockroach guts today, suggesting the symbiosis between insects and gut microbes goes back nearly 100 million years, if not longer.

The scientists hope the find will encourage other amber researchers to keep a close eye out not only for any animals trapped within, but for their excrement as well.