|Here it is - my Cretaceous insect complete with crack, but otherwise in good condition.|
Sadly, local mining activity damages the sites and a significant trade in illegally collected fossils has developed over the last decade or so. As such specimens are likely to be lost to science (not to mention incidental damage to the site), paleontologists are quite rightly calling for an urgent preservation programme - I'm glad that my specimen was legitimately collected and studied well before this became a problem; a reminder to check the provenance of anything like this, particularly for non-specialists like me who might otherwise not be aware of problems with particular sites, however well known to specialists.
So, I know it's a bit more than 100 my old, and it might be a beetle - what next? Well, as I've mentioned before, I'm no palaeontologist, but it's time to take a closer look...
|The front half.|
|The thorax and abdomen.|
|The tip of the front left leg.|
|Close-up of mouthparts.|
|Close-up of left eye (the circle is approx 0.3-0.5mm across).|
|An even closer look at the left eye.|
|Close-up of part of the pronotum/thorax.|
|Close-up of abdominal segments.|
|Close-up of the tip of the abdomen.|
So, after all that, what do I think I've got? Well, going by the general shape and simple legs, I thought it was probably a water beetle - something like the family Noteridae ('burrowing water beetles') which is already known from Crato/Santana. This example shows some similar features - leg form, overall shape, the round pronotal attachments behind the head. However, a message from Beetles In The Bush (see below) provided a quite different hypothesis. The eyes are where I think they are (the ommatidia are a good clue!), and the femurs are enlarged, and likely to be raptorial. The 'mandibles' appear to be the clypeus (so, the 'serrated join' mentioned above is an artefact/wishful thinking after all), and the revised ID is that it's a belostomatid hemipteran - a group still around and known at the 'giant water bugs' (which I've seen plenty of on my travels), although this one is less giant than many. The body shape is right, and having looked at some other images of fossil belostomatids (like this), the oblique abdominal segments are closer than seen in water beetles. Like the Noteridae, they've been found at Crato before and have one of the best fossil records of any insect group (presumably because of their large size and relatively frequent/rapid burial in shallow waters). So, I have a new (and better) ID, but I'm open to suggestions and further hypotheses. It's not the beetle I thought I'd bought, but it's still excellent and I remain fascinated by it - I'd love to learn more; I do have an 'Atlas of Macroinvertebrate Fossils', but it's only got two insects in it which are nothing like this.
Lastly lastly - for a brief extract from the 'insect' chapter of 'The Crato Fossil Beds of Brazil' (Martill, Bechly & Loveridge, 2007, Cambridge University Press), look here. For more about the whole book (it's not cheap though, RRP £92), look here (Amazon has a 'look inside' link for this title too). Soooo tempting...