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Oldest Bugs Trapped in Amber Found, Jurassic Park Still a Fantasy

Researchers working with the University of Padova and the University of Gottingen have found some of the oldest bugs on Earth trapped in amber samples. The tiny gall mite pictured above — one of two species of mite discovered along with a new variety of early fly — was found in a series of amber samples from northeastern Italy. These early arthropods are about 100 million years older than the next oldest amber preserved creatures known to science. While these new critters promise to offer science new insights to the wide world of ancient creepy-crawlers, the fact that they could get trapped in amber at all is also proving valuable to the study of ancient trees.

Any fossil preserved in amber is a great find for paleontologists, thanks to the high level of detail creatures from the primeval past maintain when stuck in these tree sap crystals. These 230-million-year-old arthropods are no exception, and offer researchers a look at the forebears of all insectdom and a new, surprisingly clear window into the development and evolution of myriad species.

Alright, the window is really more sepia-toned, but still — look how cool that thing is! You can see its creepy mouth parts and weird spines and everything, which are really pretty similar to mites today, suggesting that evolution hit on a really good way to design mites early on and has found no compelling reason to mess with it since.

Though arthropods are among the oldest forms of life on Earth, stretching back some 400 million years, the oldest specimens in amber were a relatively young 130 million years old. Until now, scientists believed that was because trees didn’t produce enough or proper sap to crystallize and perserve animals in amber until the Jurassic period. This discovery pushes that timeline back into the Triassic, meaning that scientists who study ancient tree sap — whole careers have been built on stranger subjects — just got thrown for a bit of a loop. For more details, you can read the paper, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences here.

(via ScienceDaily, image courtesy of A. Schmidt/University of Gottingen)

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