Use Of Amber In Tracing Insect Lineages

As a result of the excellent preservation of amber insects, specific genera (the majority, if not all, amber insects are extinct at the species level) can be recognized and compared with modern ones. In this way, lineages can be traced back tens of millions of years. An example is a small parasitic wasp of the genus Aphelopus (Hymenoptera: Dryinidae) trapped in Lebanese amber. This genus is still extant, and the fossil demonstrates a lineage that has survived for 130 to 135 million years.

The origin of genera can also be obtained from amber insects owing to their high degree of preservation. A recent example from Baltic amber, which contains a variety of bees, deals with the origin of the common honey bee. This fossil contains basic features characteristic of the genus Apis as we know it today, including pollen-collecting apparati on the hind legs and a barbed stinger (Fig. 1). This appears to be one of the most primitive Apis ever discovered, thus indicating a time (40 mya) and place (northern Europe) for the origin of the honey bee.

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