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Insect in Amber

Fossil Picture Gallery


Insects are so perishable that they are rarely fossilized, but tree sap, another perishable substance, is known for capturing them. (more below)
An earring holds an ancient fly
Photo (c) 2005 Andrew Alden, licensed to About.com (fair use policy)
Amber is fossilized tree resin, known in rocks from recent times back to the Carboniferous Period more than 300 million years ago. However, most amber is found in rocks younger than Jurassic (about 140 million years old). Major deposits occur on the southern and eastern shores of the Baltic Sea and the Dominican Republic, and this is where most rock-shop and jewelry specimens come from. Many other places have amber, including New Jersey and Arkansas, northern Russia, Lebanon, Sicily, Myanmar and Colombia. Exciting fossils are being reported in Cambay amber, from western India. Amber is considered a sign of ancient tropical forests.

Like a miniature version of the tar pits of La Brea, resin traps various creatures and objects in it before becoming amber. This piece of amber contains a fairly complete fossil insect. Despite what you saw in the movie "Jurassic Park," extracting DNA from amber fossils is not routinely, or even occasionally successful. So although amber specimens contain some amazing fossils, they are not good examples of pristine preservation.

Insects were the first creatures to take to the air, and their rare fossils date back to the Devonian, about 400 million years ago. The unusually good Wikipedia article on insect evolution suggests that the first winged insects arose with the first forests, which would make their association with amber even more intimate.

Learn more about insects and their history from About.com Insects Guide Debbie Hadley.

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