The specimens, one fly and two mites found in millimeter-scale droplets of amber from northeastern Italy, are about 100 million years older than any other amber arthropod ever collected. The group’s findings, which are published today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, pave the way for a better evolutionary understanding of the most diverse group of organisms in the world.
“Amber is an extremely valuable tool for paleontologists because it preserves specimens with microscopic fidelity, allowing uniquely accurate estimates of the amount of evolutionary change over millions of years,” said corresponding author David Grimaldi, a curator in the American Museum of Natural History’s Division of Invertebrate Zoology and a world authority on amber and fossil arthropods.
Globules of fossilized resin are typically called amber. Amber ranges in age from the Carboniferous (about 340 million years ago) to about 40,000 years ago, and has been produced by myriad plants, from tree ferns to flowering trees, but predominantly by conifers. Even though arthropods are more than 400 million years old, until now, the oldest record of the animals in amber dates to about 130 million years. The newly discovered arthropods break that mold with an age of 230 million years. They are the first arthropods to be found in amber from the Triassic Period.
Two of the specimens are new species of mites, named Triasacarus fedelei and Ampezzoa triassica. They are the oldest fossils in an extremely specialized group called Eriophyoidea that has about 3,500 living species, all of which feed on plants and sometimes form abnormal growth called “galls.” The ancient gall mites are surprisingly similar to ones seen today.
“You would think that by going back to the Triassic you’d find a transitional form of gall mite, but no,” Grimaldi said. “Even 230 million years ago, all of the distinguishing features of this family were there—a long, segmented body; only two pairs of legs instead of the usual four found in mites; unique feather claws, and mouthparts.”
The ancient mites likely fed on the leaves of the tree that ultimately preserved them, a conifer in the extinct family Cheirolepidiaceae. Although about 97 percent of today’s gall mites feed on flowering plants, Triasacarus fedelei and Ampezzoa triassica existed prior to the appearance and rapid radiation of flowering plants. This finding reveals the evolutionary endurance of the mites.
“We now know that gall mites are very adaptable,” Grimaldi said. “When flowering plants entered the scene, these mites shifted their feeding habits, and today, only 3 percent of the species live on conifers. This shows how gall mites tracked plants in time and evolved with their hosts.”
The third amber specimen, a fly, cannot be identified because, outside of the insect’s antennae, its body parts were not well preserved. But now that the researchers have shown that amber preserved Triassic arthropods, they are eager to find more specimens.
“There was a huge change in the flora and fauna in the Triassic because it was right after one of the most profound mass extinctions in history, at the end of the Permian,” Grimaldi said. “It’s an important time to study if you want to know how life evolved.”
This research was funded by the German Initiative of Excellence. Other authors include Saskia Jancke, of the Natural History Museum in Berlin; Paul Nascimbene, American Museum of Natural History; Kerstin Schmidt, Friedrich-Schiller-University Jena, Germany; and Torsten Wappler, University of Bonn, Germany.
Research paper: A.R. Schmidt, S. Jancke, E.E. Lindquist, E. Ragazzi, G. Roghi, P.C. Nascimbene, K. Schmidt, T. Wappler, D.A. Grimaldi, “Arthropods in Amber from the Triassic Period,” PNAS.AMERICAN MUSEUM OF NATURAL HISTORY (AMNH.ORG)
NO. 84Media Inquiries: Kendra Snyder, Department of Communications
Kendra Snyder | EurekAlert!
Volcanoes and glaciers combine as powerful methane producers
20.11.2018 | Lancaster University
Massive impact crater from a kilometer-wide iron meteorite discovered in Greenland
15.11.2018 | Faculty of Science - University of Copenhagen
Max Planck researchers revel the nano-structure of molecular trains and the reason for smooth transport in cellular antennas.
Moving around, sensing the extracellular environment, and signaling to other cells are important for a cell to function properly. Responsible for those tasks...
Researchers at the University of New Hampshire have captured a difficult-to-view singular event involving "magnetic reconnection"--the process by which sparse particles and energy around Earth collide producing a quick but mighty explosion--in the Earth's magnetotail, the magnetic environment that trails behind the planet.
Magnetic reconnection has remained a bit of a mystery to scientists. They know it exists and have documented the effects that the energy explosions can...
Biochips have been developed at TU Wien (Vienna), on which tissue can be produced and examined. This allows supplying the tissue with different substances in a very controlled way.
Cultivating human cells in the Petri dish is not a big challenge today. Producing artificial tissue, however, permeated by fine blood vessels, is a much more...
Faster and secure data communication: This is the goal of a new joint project involving physicists from the University of Würzburg. The German Federal Ministry of Education and Research funds the project with 14.8 million euro.
In our digital world data security and secure communication are becoming more and more important. Quantum communication is a promising approach to achieve...
On Saturday, 10 November 2018, the research icebreaker Polarstern will leave its homeport of Bremerhaven, bound for Cape Town, South Africa.
19.11.2018 | Event News
09.11.2018 | Event News
06.11.2018 | Event News
20.11.2018 | Life Sciences
20.11.2018 | Life Sciences
20.11.2018 | Physics and Astronomy