A drop of tree resin fell upon some flies that we shall call Romeo and Juliet 41 million years ago. Ironically enough, they were in the act of fornicating. Although their session was disrupted, that tree resin preserved their flagrante delicto scene for eternity. Prehistoric spiders, ants, midges, and a pair of copulating flies are among a unique treasure trove of amber fossils described in a paper published in Scientific Reports.
Amber fossils are usually associated with the northern hemisphere, especially Myanmar, which has produced a surprising collection of fossils over the years. The new selection is unique in that these are among the oldest amber fossils collected from the southern hemisphere, including sites in Australia and New Zealand. The new paper was headed by Jeffrey Stilwell from the Monash School of Earth, Atmosphere and Environment.
The collection spans a vast period of time, stretching from the Late Triassic period some 230 million years ago to the Late Middle Eocene some 40 million years ago. Stilwell and his colleagues discovered countless pieces of amber, many of which contained various animals, plants, and microorganisms.
According to gizmodo.com, amber fossils are valuable in that they offer a 3D perspective of immaculately preserved specimens. In some rare cases, these fossils can even capture a particular behavior, such as ticks crawling through dinosaur feathers or a spider attacking a wasp. In this case, the researchers were fortunate to find a pair of copulating long-legged files (Dolichopodidae), which lived in southern Gondwana during the Late Middle Eocene in what is now Anglesea, Australia.
“This may be the first example of ‘frozen behaviour’ in the fossil record of Australia,” said Stilwell in a press release.
Apparently, paleontologist Victoria McCoy from the University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee told the New York Times that these flies might not actually be in their final death positions. “It’s possible one fly was trapped in the amber and the other was a little excited and tried to mate,” said McCoy, who was not involved in the research. As long as they died a happy death !
Although their final act of fornication has been preserved for eternity, it seems as if the worst one was a 99-million-year-old piece of amber containing a daddy longlegs with his penis firmly erect. Another awkward moment caught frozen in time is a 100-million-year old chunk of Chinese amber showing a male damselfly trying to court a female. This one however has an eternal case of the blue balls. At least the long-legged flies actually got the chance to get laid.
The amber fossils are providing a glimpse into the ecosystems that existed long ago in southern Pangea, southern Gondwana, and Zealandia. Starting between 200 million and 175 million years ago, landmasses now recognized as South America, Africa, Madagascar, India, Antarctica, and Australia began to break away from the Pangea supercontinent, forming the Gondwana minor supercontinent.
The paper also describes a newfound species of fossil ants called Monomorium and a small, wingless hexapod, both from southern Gondwana. A batch of baby spiders, biting midges, liverworts, and pieces of moss are among the other items found preserved in the fossilized tree resin. The scientists also found a piece of amber that’s around 230 million years old, the oldest ever from southern Pangea.