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230 million-year-old bugs found encased in Italian amber

The well preserved ancient insects encased in amber are 230 million year old which puts them in the Triassic time period.

Scientists have found three inhabitants of a once vibrant forest frozen in the sticky geological preservative of amber.

This discovery has opened a spectacular window into insect life some 230 million years ago.

The well preserved ancient insects encased in amber are 230 million year old which puts them in the Triassic time period.

The findings suggest that the insects trapped in amber, or fossilized tree resin are 100 million years older than previously believed.

"That's the great thing about amber. You can make this incredible detailed comparison with living species."-- David Grimaldi, curator of the American Museum of Natural History in New York.

70,000 amber droplets examined
Researchers examined 70,000 droplets of amber unearthed in northeastern Italy. The fossil trove yielded two microscopic insect species and a part of one fly.

According to experts, the bugs are too tiny to be observed with the naked eye and the fly is a bit smaller than a fruit fly.

Though older insects have been identified in amber earlier, the new species are different because they are not constricted, are better preserved and provide more details.

Lead study author David Grimaldi, curator of the American Museum of Natural History in New York stated, "That's the great thing about amber. You can make this incredible detailed comparison with living species."

Ancient specimens compared to modern forms
In order to develop a deeper understanding of how life evolved on land, the scientists compared the ancient specimens to modern forms.

The analysis revealed an amazing similarity between the ancient bugs and their modern day descendants. With the exception of slight difference in the mouth and fewer legs, "they're dead ringers for (modern) gall mites," said Grimaldi.

According to him, the modern forms can be found in bubbles or galls on plant leaves. This likeness is a trifle strange given that the world has altered significantly from when these bugs were alive.

During that time, there was only one mammoth continent, a few primitive dinosaurs and no flower plants. Bugs must have lived on trees while they now stay on flowering plants.

The discovery was reported monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.