Science Briefs: Amber preserves beetle 99 million years

This 99-million-year-old fossil of a beetle is spectacularly preserved.
This 99-million-year-old fossil of a beetle is spectacularly preserved. Stuttgart State Museum of Natural History

About 100 million years ago, a tiny beetle flew into a coniferous tree and became engulfed in its resin. Because the resin fossilized into amber, with the beetle fully encased, its discovery in Myanmar is allowing entomologists a rare and detailed glance into the past. Machael Caterino, director of the Clemson University Anrthropod Collection, said, “This is an extraordinary 99 million-year-old fossil in Burmese amber. We can see all the details of the external sculpturing of the wing covers and the head. We can see the mouth parts, which enable us to predict that this was a predator much like its modern relatives.”

With colleagues from Germany’s Stuttgart State Museum of Natural History, Caterino co-authored a research article about the discovery; it was published in the journal Zootaxa.

The ancient insect is a member of a family of beetles called Histeridae, which still thrives today with more than 4,000 species. The specimen, now housed in Germany, is only about 2 mm long – about the width of the tip of a new crayon.

Better prototype for lithium-ion battery

Joseph DeSimone from UNC-Chapel Hill and Nitash Balsara from Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory last year created the first prototype of a nonflammable lithium-ion battery. Now, they have made that prototype better, replacing the liquid electrolyte with a liquid-solid hybrid that makes the battery more conductive and more resistant to damage.

“A non-liquid electrolyte is better because the battery can’t leak, which makes it safer,” said Dominica Wong, who led last year’s findings at UNC-Chapel Hill and who is co-author of this year’s work, which appears in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. “For traditional liquid batteries, casing design around the battery pack is extremely important to prevent battery failure. With solid electrolytes, batteries can be made more flexible and robust against compression, which is important for several applications.”

The new work builds on the nonflammable material that DeSimone, Wong and their colleagues developed last year.

Smithsonian zoologist lectures on Jan. 7

Noted zoologist Kristofer Helgen will speak Jan. 7 at the N.C. Museum of Natural Sciences as part of the Extreme Mammals lecture series. Helgen, a Smithsonian research zoologist and head of mammalogy at the National Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C., will explain how modern scientific expeditions and detective work in museum collections can lead to the discovery of new species of mammals, and how these species are increasingly endangered in a rapidly changing, human-dominated world. Admission is $10. The 7 p.m. lecture is in the WRAL 3D Theater of the museum’s Natural Exploration Center, 11 W. Jones St., Raleigh. To order tickets:

Staff reports