Even after 99 million years, some things never change.
The cuckoo wasps were shades of metallic green 99 million years ago just as they are today, revealed a study of remarkably preserved insects trapped in amber.
The Myanmar specimens – which also included beetles, ants and a soldier’s fly – largely retained the colors they would have sported in the time of the dinosaurs.
Most fossils lose color over time – structural clues are usually not preserved – which is why most fossil reconstructions rely heavily on artists’ imaginations.
Cuckoo wasps were shades of metallic green 99 million years ago just as they are today, revealed a study of remarkably well-preserved amber insect fossils. In the photo, one of the cuckoo wasps (above) preserved in fossil amber, with a brown ant (below)
“Amber is in the mid-Cretaceous period, about 99 million years ago, dating back to the golden age of dinosaurs,” said Chenyang Cai, a writer and paleoentomologist at the Chinese Academy of Sciences.
“It is essentially resin produced from ancient conifers that grew in a tropical rainforest environment.”
“The animals and plants trapped in the dense resin have been preserved, some with realistic fidelity.”
The colors sported by animals can blur clues about their behavior and ecology, such as how they escape predators or attract potential mates.
Dr Cai and colleagues collected 35 pieces of amber with “exquisitely” preserved insects – including wasps, cockroaches and a soldier’s fly – from an amber mine located in northern Myanmar.
Some of these creepy ancient cats – who would have lived alongside the dinosaurs – seem to have retained their original colors.
“The rare range of amber fossils includes cuckoo wasps with bluish-green, yellow-green, blue-violet or green colors on the head, chest, abdomen and legs,” said Dr. Cai.
“In terms of color, they’re almost the same as the cuckoo wasps that live today.”
The cockroaches, meanwhile, had bodies in shades of blue and purple, while the soldier’s fly was a dark metallic green.
“We have seen thousands of amber fossils, but the color conservation in these specimens is extraordinary,” said paper author and paleobiologist Diying Huang.
The team wanted to understand why the color was preserved in some fossils but not in others – and if the colors had changed over time.
Using a diamond knife blade, they were able to cut the exoskeleton of two of the colored wasps and take a sample of hair.
The Myanmar specimens – which also included beetles, ants and a soldier’s fly – largely retained the colors they would have sported in the time of the dinosaurs. In the photo, a cleptine wasp preserved in the 99-million-year-old piece of amber
Most fossils lose color over time – structural clues are usually not preserved – which is why most fossil reconstructions rely heavily on artists’ imaginations. In the photo, a green wasp
“The type of color preserved in amber fossils is called structural color, caused by the microscopic structure of the animal’s surface,” explained author and paleontologist Yanhong Pan.
“The surface nanostructure disperses light of specific wavelengths and produces very intense colors.”
“This mechanism is responsible for many of the colors we know from our daily lives,” added Professor Pan.
The researchers used an electron microscope to demonstrate that the insect exoskeletons were actually spreading light.
This means that the fossils had been exceptionally well preserved and that the colors seen on them had probably remained the same since the Cretaceous period.
In fossils where the color was not preserved, even the exoskeletons were severely damaged, explaining their brown-black appearance.
Dr Cai and colleagues collected 35 pieces of amber with “exquisitely” preserved insects – including wasps, cockroaches and a soldier’s fly – from an amber mine located in northern Myanmar. In the photo, a cleptine wasp preserved with a bluish green head
“We have seen thousands of amber fossils, but the color conservation in these specimens is extraordinary,” said paper author and paleobiologist Diying Huang. In the photo, an elongated beetle that gnaws the bark with a metallic blue coloring
“The existing cuckoo wasps are, as their name suggests, parasites that lay their eggs in the nests of bees and unrelated wasps,” said Dr. Cai.
“Structural coloring has been shown to act as mimicry in insects and it is therefore likely that the color of the cretaceous cuckoo wasps was an adaptation to avoid detection.”
“At the moment we can’t even rule out the possibility that colors have other roles than camouflage, such as thermoregulation.”
The full study results were published in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B.
WHICH FOSSILS WERE FOUND IN THE BURMESE AMBER?
Amber, often used in jewelry, is a fossilized resin of trees, and the oldest is more than 300 million years old.
In recent years the Hukawng valley in northern Myanmar, formerly Burma, has produced numerous finds.
In January 2017, researchers discovered a 100-million-year-old insect preserved in amber that looked very much like ET.
Its features were so strange and unique that researchers entered a new scientific insect order.
The creature had a triangular head and bulging eyes, which is unlike any other known insect species.
The eyes on the side of his head would have given him the opportunity to see almost 180 degrees by simply turning his head to the side.
Due to its uniqueness, the insect was assigned its brand new scientific classification order – called Aethiocarenodea.
In June 2017, researchers revealed an extraordinary brood trapped in amber, which they believe was a few days old when it fell into a pool of sap that oozed from a conifer in Myanmar.
The incredible discovery showed the head, neck, wing, tail and feet of an extinct bird that lived in the time of the dinosaurs 100 million years ago with unprecedented detail.
The researchers nicknamed the young enantiornithin “Belone”, from the Burmese name for the amber-colored oriental skylark.
The brood belonged to a group of birds known as the “opposite birds” who lived alongside the ancestors of the modern bird.
Archaeologists claim they were actually more diverse and successful – until they died out with dinosaurs 66 million years ago.
They had big differences from today’s birds and their shoulders and feet had grown very differently from those of modern birds.
In December 2017, experts discovered incredible ancient fossils of a tick that grabs a dinosaur feather and another – nicknamed “Dracula’s terrible tick” – swells after filling with blood.
The first evidence that dinosaurs had bloodsucking parasites that lived on them was found preserved in 99 million year old Burmese amber.
The newly discovered tick dates back to the Cretaceous period of 145-66 million years ago.