A collection of amber deposits unearthed in northwest India has opened a spectacular window into insect life some 50 million years ago.
At that time, what’s now the Asian subcontinent had just crashed into mainland Asia — about 100 million years after breaking off the coast of east Africa. During its long isolated float, life on that giant island had time to evolve into strange new forms.
That’s what’s researchers expected, anyway, but not what they found in the amber, described October 26 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Instead, the insects resemble what’s seen in amber deposits from continental landmasses of the time. (Amber is the geological name for fossilized tree resin, which often preserves insects that get stuck in it.) The findings suggest an unexpected transfer of insects, perhaps across chains of volcanic islands.
Although the new amber didn’t yield bizarre new species, it’s still loaded with fossil treasures. More than 700 insect species representing 55 families of insects have been identified inside. Among them are ancient bees, termites and ants — highly social insects that form some of the world’s most complex societies.
In the years to come, scientists will compare these ancient specimens to modern forms and develop a deeper understanding of how these creatures have evolved. Until they do, the bugs are plenty amazing to look at.
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