Fossil insects discovered in Indian amber

This video is called David Attenborough on fossils in amber, part 1.

Parts 2, 3, 4, and 5 are here.

From the BBC:

25 October 2010 Last updated at 19:49 GMT

Ancient bugs found in 50-million-year-old Indian amber

By Katia Moskvitch Science reporter, BBC News

More than 700 new species of ancient insect have been discovered in 50-million-year-old amber.

The discoveries come from some 150kg of amber produced by an ancient rainforest in India.

Scientists say in the journal PNAS that many insects are related to species from far-away corners of the world.

This means that, despite millions of years in isolation in the ocean, the region was a lot more biologically diverse than previously believed.

The amber, dubbed Cambay amber, was found in lignite mines in the Cambay Shale of the Indian state of Gujarat.

Jes Rust from the University of Bonn in Germany led an international team of researchers from India, Germany and the US.

According to a predominant theory of continents’ formation, at first there were only two so-called supercontinents on Earth. The one in the north was called Laurasia and the other one, located more towards the south, Gondwana.

Drifting away

When Gondwana split up into several smaller pieces in the mid-Jurassic, some 160 million years ago, most of its parts stayed in the southern hemisphere, but one started drifting towards the north.

Having shifted for at least 100 million years at a remarkable rate of 15-25cm per year, the plate eventually collided with Asia and became what we know today as the Indian subcontinent. In the process, the Himalayas were formed.

It has long been believed that drifting in complete isolation would have contributed to a potentially unique plant and animal life, found only in the region.

But the mostly tropical climate of India is known to be unfavourable to the preservation of fossils and not much has been found to confirm this hypothesis of what biologists call “endemism”. But the present study says the vertebrate fossil record discovered so far reveals little endemism.

Most of the recently discovered bugs also show links to modern insects as well as those that lived millions of years ago in different parts of the world, including Asia, Australia, and even South America.

The lead author Dr Rust told BBC News that this could be explained by land-bridge connections – possibly small islands that formed before the collision with Asia, in the Eocene – between the Indian “ferry” and other landmasses.

“It is possible for plants to drift hundreds of kilometres on open ocean currents, and in the case of insects, some can fly,” said Dr Rust.

There are those that are only able to fly during mating, but they can fly at least a few kilometres.

“Not many are able to cross open seaways, but [they can] drift with plant material. Then there are also very tiny insects and they sometimes simply get blown away, up to the jet stream.”

Rainforest’s age

The study says the resin that later became Cambay amber originated from an ancient tropical rainforest.

“The Indian amber is from the Lower Eocene and was likely produced by flowering hardwood trees called Dipterocarpaceae, [trees] that predominate in the forests of southeast Asia today,” Paul Nascimbene of the American Museum of Natural History in New York, told BBC News.

To determine where the amber came from, the scientists chemically fingerprinted it. …

The team also said that it was able to determine the age of the modern rainforest.

Up until now, many experts used to suggest that this type of tropical rainforest, found today all over the southeast Asia, first originated in the Miocene some 20 or 25 million years ago.

But the recent discovery challenged that idea.

David Grimaldi from the American Museum of Natural History and another co-author told BBC News that the rainforest is at least 60 million years old.

“What we have here from India is the earliest fossil evidence of a modern type of tropical rainforest [of the Dipterocarpaceae family] in Asia,” he said.

“Before, we just had no idea to how ancient the dipterocarp forests that occur in southeast Asia today really are; there really was no indication.” …

The researcher said that this amber deposit was the first important one found in India.

Though this natural yellow-brownish substance is quite widespread all over the world, the best-known amber deposits are in the Dominican Republic, Mexico and the Baltic region, where some 80% of the world’s known amber is found.

“There are tonnes of amber [in this Indian deposit], and what is interesting about it is that it was produced in the tropics, the most highly diverse areas in respect to species diversity,” said Dr Rust.

“And the fossil record of the terrestrial tropics is not so good, because usually all the organic material gets rotten very quickly.”

With tonnes of amber at their disposal, the researcher said his team hoped to uncover many more secrets of the peculiar world that existed millions of years ago.

See also here. And here.

Non-biting midges of the tribe Tanytarsini in Eocene amber from the Rovno region (Ukraine): a pioneer systematic study with note s on the phylogeny (Diptera: Chironomidae): here.

About 100 million years ago in a forest in Myanmar, a dragonfly lost its head to a hungry lizard. But the lizard didn’t get away. The ghoulish moment—decapitated dragonfly and parts of the fleeing lizard—were captured and entombed in sticky tree sap, says George Poinar, a paleontologist at Oregon State University, Corvallis, who describes this last meal in the December issue of Palaeodiversity. Poinar discovered the two animals preserved together in a golden piece of amber. The dragonfly (top)—which represents a new sub-family, Paleodisparoneurinae—is nearly intact, aside from its head. But only the foot and tail of the hungry lizard remain (bottom). “It probably had the dragonfly’s head in its mouth,” says Poinar. Both died, one as dinner, and one as a prisoner of its appetite: here .

In the mating game, some female mites are mightier than their mates, new research at the University of Michigan and the Russian Academy of Sciences suggests. The evidence comes, in part, from 40 million-year-old mating mites preserved in Baltic amber: here.

How long can insect species exist? Evidence from extant and fossil Micromalthus beetles: here.

Experts have confirmed a sighting of the rarest ant in North America—the Bigfoot of ants—in Cary, NC: here.

‘Terrible hairy fly’ rediscovered in Kenya: here.

Global Warming and Insect Abundance: here.

Eocene mantidfly-and spider in amber: here.

Eogyropsylla sedzimiri sp. nov. from Eocene Baltic amber (Sternorrhyncha: Psylloidea): here.

Three new species of eriophyoid mites (Acari: Prostigmata) from Montenegro: here.

Jurassic pain: Giant ‘flea-like’ insects plagued dinosaurs 165 million years ago: here.

Quality of [Eocene] insect fossils from Montana’s Flathead River astounds scientists: here.

6 thoughts on “Fossil insects discovered in Indian amber

  1. City Ants vs. Country Ants

    Odorous house ants—so named because they smell like piña coladas when irritated—adopt a whole new lifestyle when they move from woods to city, according to Purdue University researcher Grzegorz Buczkowski, who studies the ants in Indiana. In their native forests, each colony of these social insects consists of a single queen and no more than 100 other ants—small enough to live in a single acorn. But in West Lafayette, Indiana, and nearby urban areas the scientist found colonies that numbered 58,000 ants with 238 queens. Some large colonies have connected via trails, creating supercolonies, one of which included thousands of queens and 6 million workers. The insects may be moving into cities because life there is easier than in the woods, where ants in unheated acorns hibernate in winter; in cities, they can find warm locales and stay active year-round. “Even when it’s snowing outside, they can be happy inside reproducing,” Buczkowski told a Science News reporter.


  2. Pingback: Dinosaur-era insect pollination discovery | Dear Kitty. Some blog

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  5. Pingback: Fossil insect discovery in Indian amber | Dear Kitty. Some blog

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