The History Blog
August 28, 2012
Scientists have found two gall mites and a fly preserved in 250-million-year-old Late Triassic amber from the Dolomite Alps in northeastern Italy. These are the first arthropods (a phylum of invertebrates including insects, arachnids and crustaceans) found in amber from the Triassic. Although arthropods appear in the fossil record starting in the Early Cambrian period around 540 million years ago, these are the oldest arthropods ever discovered trapped in amber, 100 million years older than prior examples.
Researchers gathered thousands of droplets of amber no more than six millimeters long from outcrops on the Dolomites, then spent two years screening each tiny piece for any plant or creature they might contain. If you think this must have been a painfully tedious experience, you think right.
“Before preparation, one of the tiny flecks of amber, about 1 millimeter in diameter, wafted onto the floor of my lab,” [David Grimaldi, curator of invertebrate zoology at the American Museum of Natural History in New York,] recalled. “Alex Schmidt and my assistant who did the prep, Paul Nascimbene, spent about three hours on their hands and knees with flashlights. I don’t know how, but they found the speck on the floor hidden in the corner between two lab benches. It was a nerve-wracking time.”