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Sperm of the oldest animals discovered in 100 million year old amber

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Paleontologists discovered the specimen in the reproductive tract of an ancient female resin wrapped in resin – one of several specimens of ostracods from Myanmar.

The previously unknown species of crustaceans, now called Myanmarcypris hui, resembles a modern-day mussel and is an example of an ostracod.

Ostracods are small animals dating back about 500 million years and can still be found in oceans, freshwater lakes and rivers.

Using X-ray reconstruction 3D technology, the scientists analyzed several ostracod specimens, studying their limbs and reproductive organs.

Experts discovered mature sperm inside the sperm vessels of a female crustacean, which would have stored the sperm to be released after its eggs had matured if it had not been wrapped in the sticky resin of the tree.

Reconstruction of ostracod cretaceous crustacean artist Myanmarcypris hui male (right) and female (left) during mating.

“This female must have mated just before she got into the resin,” He Wang, from the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Nanjing, said in a statement.

The scientists said the discovery marks the oldest fossil in which sperm cells have been finally identified.

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The results “double the age of the oldest sperm of fossil animals without a doubt,” the report authors write in the findings published in Royal Society diary on Wednesday.

Fossilized sperm samples are very rare – according to the report authors, the oldest known ostracod sperm are 17 million years old, and the previous record age of 50 million years was held by a species of worm.

Analysis on ostracod samples, which date from the Cretaceous period, also revealed rare details of the internal and reproductive organs of crustaceans, including the male clamp, sperm pumps, hemipenes, eggs, and female sperm vessels with giant sperm.

While most male animals produce a large number of small sperm, ostracods, the report authors said, produce a small number of large-sized sperm with long moving tails.

Ostracod crustaceans were trapped in this small piece of Cretaceous amber found in Myanmar.

The scientists said the discovery offers “unprecedented knowledge in a sudden ancient and advanced case of evolutionary specialization”.

The researchers added that evidence of the use of giant sperm 100 million years ago is evidence of a successful long-term reproductive strategy.

“The complexity of the reproductive system in these samples raises the question of whether investing in giant sperm cells could represent a viable evolutionary strategy,” said Renate Matzke-Karasz, a geologist at Ludwig-Maximilians-Universitaet in Munich who was involved in morphological analysis. of samples, said in a statement.

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