21 November 1999
Volume 7: no. 9
Fall is always a busy time with different activities, which bring on different time slots for doing things. During the summer season this year, I faithfully ran a blacklight trap and pinned insects taken from it regularly, but because of the coming of the fall and travel and meetings, I neglected both the specimens and the collections! You guessed it! The scavengers got into those pinned specimens and literally demolished them in a matter of weeks. The same thing can happen to your collection during the fall and winter if it's not protected. Many 4-Hers' collections have made the rounds to all the fairs, as a result there are some things which need to be taken care of to get them ready for 2000 and beyond.
A couple of years back my son, Andy, visited Poland and upon his return presented his mom and sisters with jewelry made from amber. Embedded in the amber were small insects, some remarkably like mosquitoes. In this Gloworm I though it would be neat to review this unique natural preservative and some of the insects collected in it. Amber is a hardened substance formed when molecules in certain tree resins polymerize, or join to form larger molecules. There is no exact age, hardness, or other quantifiable definition of amber. Many extinct forms of life are `caught' in amber making the substance a popular study medium for paleontologists and others. In 1995 Raul Cano and associates at California Polytechnic State University report finding dormant bacteria and bringing them back to life from spores trapped inside bees that were 25 to 40 million years old. The picture to the left is an ancient bee in amber (courtesy Raul Cano).
Insects trapped in amber have long been a mainstay of entomology. Lately, there's been an epidemic of amber-fever among biologists who study the stuff. In January, for example, scientists announced the only flowers known to have been preserved from the Cretaceous period, which ended with the disappearance of the dinosaurs. They found the oldest-known mosquito -- perhaps the ancestor of trillions of pestiferous bloodsuckers. Amber is found around the Baltic area, but recently the Dominican Republic has proven to be a tremendous source of New World amber. There are also `amber sites' in many states in the US. Check this one at http://www.dinosauria.com/jdp/misc/amber.htm.
Spiders usually don't fossilize because their external skeletons are softer than those of most other arthropods. This is one of the rare spiders found trapped in amber. Photograph by Laurie Minor-Penland.
We've been working to get some things on the net, so if you are computer able, check http://www.ext.msstate.edu/anr/entpath/4-h/. I think you'll like what you see there. We will continue to add new pictures and text to these pages. We're also open to suggestions.
Dr. Michael R. Williams
Entomology & Plant Pathology
Mississippi State, MS 39762-9775
phone - 601-325-2085
home - 601-323-5699
FAX - 601-325-8837