The Dominican Republic housed very impressive amber deposits. Around 160 pounds of it have been found 50 years ago by Illinois Natural History Survey entomologist Milton Sanderson. For a long time, the amber remained unstudied, even if Sanderson wrote a highly influential paper on the amber in 1960. The amber collection reveals another important aspect of zoological history.
The discovery presented today shares a similar trait with the feathered dinosaur discovered just a couple of days ago: both fossils are very well preserved.
Now INHS paleontologist Sam Heads discovered a pygmy locust in the amber. The small grasshopper lived 18 to 20 million years ago. What makes the grasshopper scientifically interesting is its evolutionary relation to the subfamily. Cladonotiane locust subfamily used to have wings long ago, but the modern members seems to have vestigial wings, a structure that does not fulfill its initial function. Heads says that such well-preserved grasshoppers are rarely found in amber.
“Fossil insects can provide lots of insight into the evolution of specific traits and behaviors, and they also tell us about the history of the time period,” Heads said, according to Biology News. “They’re a tremendous resource for understanding the ancient world, ancient ecosystems and the ancient climate – better even, perhaps, than dinosaur bones.”
Amber collection reveals a grasshopper named after David Attenborough
The researchers decided to pay some honors while naming the new grasshopper. The name Electrotettix attenboroughi comes from a combination between ‘amber’, ‘grasshopper’ and David Attenborough, the British filmmaker and naturalist. “Sir David has a personal interest in amber, and also he was one of my childhood heroes and still is one of my heroes and so I decided to name the species in his honor — with his permission of course.”
Other fossils have been discovered in the same amber piece containing the grasshopper. By looking at the found wasps, ants, plants and fungi, scientists can understood much more because they can analyze parts of historical ecosystems.
‘Dark data’ is a real problem in research. Because many scientists also prepare for tenure-track, some scientific raw data is kept for subsequent publishing research and publishing, which sometimes does not happen. So much information about insects and fossils can only be found in the minds of taxonomists without proper publication. Most of the amber discovered by Sanderson in the 1950s still needs to be analyzed, but the process is painstakingly lengthy. What the amber collection reveals might produce other significantly scientific discoveries.