Friday, 12 October 2012

An Ancient Ambush Forever Preserved By The Amber Time Machine

Fossils preserved in amber are some of the most beautiful and complete views of the past which we have. The organisms found within the hardened, golden tree resin are intact and have not suffered the degree of warping, desiccation or damage, unlike specimens preserved within rock, mud, peat or ice. The arthropods, plants, fungi and even lizards contained within these resin prisons are the closest we shall ever get to seeing the prehistoric Earth and its inhabitants.

The remarkable 100 million year old ambush
While complete reconstruction, as in Jurassic Park is  impossible, as any DNA present in the cells would have decayed long ago, the smallest features are preserved in perfect detail, allowing for perfect models of the creature in life to be created. As a result, all amber fossils are very special, but some are more so than others. For they preserve not only the creature, but moments or activities, frozen in time for eternity.

A recent discovery from the Hukawng Valley in Myanmar qualifies as one of these. Uncovered by palaeontologists from the University of Oregon, the tiny piece of 100 million year old amber contained a spider just about to pounce on a parasitic wasp ensnared in its web.

'This juvenile spider was going to make a meal out of a tiny parasitic wasp, but never quite got to it,' said George Poinar Jr, Professor of Zoology at Oregon State University. The specimen itself is a veritable goldmine of firsts. Both arthropods are completely new genera. The spider has been identified as a kind known as an orb weaver and the wasp was part of a group which parasitised spiders and their eggs. A relationship which explains why the creatures were found together in the same piece of amber.

They were connected to at least 15 strands of silken threat which would have been part of the original web, making the overall hunting scene the first of its kind documented in the fossil record. Amber fossils will continue to bring new surprises: some will show new species, others unique moments in time. While others will present both scenarios, such as this 'remarkable 100 million year old ambush.' We simply do not know what will be uncovered next, as hardened, resin fragments from lost forests surface from rocks all over the world.