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Fossilized cockroach sperm discovered in 30 million year old amber

Amber is a window to the past. Entomologist George Poinar Jr. examined a 30 million year old piece of Dominican amber and spotted something rare: an extinct fossilized cockroach with sperm. In a statement on Monday, Oregon State University called it the “first fossilized cockroach sperm” ever discovered. So yeah?

A top view shows the cockroach’s markings preserved in amber.

George Poinar Jr./OSU

Amber is what you get when sticky tree resin hardens and fossilizes over time. He is famous for preserving the unfortunate flora and fauna that strayed from his path. Amber gives us a remarkable insight into life in the past, exquisite flowers at weird bugs. Poinar has a comprehensive summary of amber finds and continues to make fascinating discoveries.

The fossilized cockroach is about three tenths of an inch (7 millimeters) long. “It has long spines, used for defense, on its legs, especially the hind legs,” Poinar said. “The sperm bundle containing sperm with dark acrosomes, structures covering the head of the sperm, is also of interest because fossil sperm are rare.” The sperm were found at the end of the cockroach’s abdomen.

Poinar published a description of the cockroach in the journal Biologia this month.

Just in case you think cockroach sperm might be the weirdest thing ever found in amber, I refer you to this alien-like bug. And this bird with weird long toes. And those mold pigs. Amber is the gift that keeps on giving.

Poinar named the roach species Supella dominicana. Curiously, its closest modern relatives are in Asia and Africa, far from the Dominican Republic. This presents a bit of a mystery. Said Poinar, “So what caused these cockroaches to go extinct when it’s so hard to get rid of them today?” It’s an open question.

Cockroaches don’t have the greatest reputation among humans. They are unwanted guests associated with dirt and spreading germs. Don’t expect the experts to crack that amber in an attempt to retrieve those sperm. This cockroach is history. Says Poinar, “Many might say the best place for a cockroach is buried in amber.”


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