Amber

George Poinar Jr.

Oregon State University

Amber is a fossilized resin ranging from several million to 300 million years of age. This material is a gold mine for the entomologist because it contains a variety of insects preserved in pristine, three-dimensional condition. Fossils in amber provide evidence of lineages dating back millions of years (Table I). External features are preserved so well that taxonomists can make detailed comparisons with living taxa to follow evolutionary development of genera and even species. Amber has a melting point between 200 and 380°C, a hardness of 2 to 3 on the Moh's scale, and a surface that is insoluble to organic solvents. Aside from providing direct evidence of an insect taxon at a particular time and place, amber insects give clues to past distributions and phylogeny, as well as indirect evidence of plants and vertebrates and the establishment of symbiotic associations, and clues for reconstructing ancient landscapes.

TABLE I Significant Amber Deposits in the World

Deposit

Location

Approximate age (million years)

Baltic

Northern Europe

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