Researchers have recently unearthed a bounty of fossil-bearing amber in Ethiopia. These 95 million year old amber pieces contain a variety of life forms including plants, fungai, bacteria, nematodes and many species of arthropods. The arthropods found in the amber include springtails, fairy wasps, thrips, Zorapterans (a species-poor Insect order that I had never heard of), and arachnids. Here are some shots of the arthropod amber inclusions.
Arthropod amber inclusions for Cretaceous Ethiopia. From left to right: A false fairy wasp (Mymarommatidae), a thrips (Merothripidae), and a Zorapteran. Adapted from Schmidt et al., 2010.
These sort of amber fossils are especially useful in piecing together the complex interplay of life in ancient ecosystems. They provide a snapshot of a wide variety of contemporary and interdependent life that other fossil types do not preserve. This find helps fill in some especially troublesome gaps in Cretaceous African biodiversity.
Read more at Wired or get the paper at PNAS; but don’t tell this guy about it:
Interesting trivia: John Hammond in 'Jurassic Park' was played by Richard Attenborough, elder brother of naturalist David Attenborough.
New fossil arachnids of the order Araneae from Inner Mongolia, China have been described in the journal, Naturwissenschaften.
Eoplectreurys gertschi fossils. The body length of these tiny spiders is only about 3 mm, excluding the chelicerae.
These fossils are remarkable for a variety of reasons:
- First, they are very well preserved, allowing researchers to examine minute details of this extinct species (See image below).
- Secondly, the fossils are extremely old, from the Middle Jurassic (165 million years ago). They extend the fossil record of the family Plectreuridae back 120 million years beyond previous specimens. The morphological conservation between these fossil Plectreuroids and their modern counterparts displays strong evolutionary conservatism (the creationists are gonna’ love that detail).
- Finally, the discovery of the fossils in China supports the hypothesis that this spider family once had a much larger range. Today they are only found in the US, Mexico, and the Carribean.
E. gertschi leg, exemplifying the minute detail discernible from these fossils.
Via, The Great Beyond.
- Selden, P. & Huang, D., The oldest haplogyne spider (Araneae: Plectreuridae), from the Middle Jurassic of China. Naturwissenschaften. Available at: http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/s00114-010-0649-z [Accessed February 10, 2010].