Ancient Insects Trapped in Time
Roughly 230 million years ago, two mites and a midge got stuck in oozing resin from a now-extinct species of conifer tree in the mountains of northeastern Italy. They never moved again. Despite their ignoble deaths, the insects have now earned the distinction of being the oldest arthropods — invertebrates that include insects, arachnids, and crustaceans — ever found preserved in amber. Arthropods have scuttled and crawled over Earth’s surface for more than 400 million years, but prior to this discovery the oldest specimens collected in amber were only 130 million years old. Their presence in 230-million-year-old amber, researchers say, shows for the first time that mites evolved long before the appearance of flowering plants.