Martial, a 1st century Roman poet famous for his epigrams, wrote what could be an epitaph for an insect trapped and preserved in amber :

"Here shines a bee closed in amber tomb
As if interred in her own honey comb.
A fit reward fate to her labours gave,
No other death would she have wished to have."

Insects, more rarely, small lizards and frogs, became trapped and preserved in the fluid resin oozing from ancient trees millions of years ago. Some amber pieces have swarms of flies which were attracted to the tasty resin. If a piece of jewelry containing an amber insect has a rather low asking price, the insect might need an expert to check if it is a modern species for forgeries abound!

The well preserved insects are useful to scientists studying ancient species. Remember the book and movie, Jurassic Park? Can dinosaurs really be cloned using the DNA found in mosquitoes preserved in amber which may have bitten a dinosaur just before perishing? The short answer is - no. Mosquitoes in amber are extremely rare - let alone one that may have feasted on a dinosaur. DNA unfortunately does not survive very long let alone millions of years. The author, Michael Crichton, made it seem possible by introducing the mixing of frog DNA to missing pieces of dinosaur DNA in his plot. But think - the resulting animal would not be a dinosaur but a frog-dinosaur hybrid. Still, it is a ripping good yarn and exciting movie.

Andrew Ross and Jeremy Austin, scientists from the Natural History Museum in London, England give a good and readable overview of the debate in The search for DNA in amber

Photo credit : Elia Diodati on Flickr took this photo of an amber amulet with an insect inclusion at the Field Museum in Chicago.

Original Post by THE BEADING GEM
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