The true coloration of insects from 99 million years ago has been exposed thanks to a research team from the Nanjing Institute of Geology and Paleontology of the Chinese Academy of Sciences (NIGPAS).
Colors offer many clues about the behavior and ecology of animals. The study has been published in Proceedings of the Royal Society B. Thousands of amber fossils have been seen so far, but the color preservation in these specimens is extraordinary .
The rare set of amber fossils includes cuckoo wasps with metallic bluish-green, yellowish-green, blue-purple, or green colors on the head, thorax, abdomen, and legs. The researchers used diamond blades to cut the exoskeleton of two of the colorful amber wasps and a normal dull cuticle sample.
The type of color preserved in amber fossils is called a structural color . It is caused by the microscopic structure of the animal’s surface. Understanding the coloration of long-extinct animals can help us shed light on ecosystems in the deep geological past. In total there are 35 pieces of amber with exquisitely preserved insects from an amber mine in northern Myanmar .
According to Cai Chenyang , associate professor at Nanjing Institute of Geology and Paleontology (NIGPAS) in China, who led the study:
Amber is from the Middle Cretaceous, approximately 99 million years old, and dates back to the golden age of the dinosaurs. It is essentially resin produced by ancient coniferous trees that grew in a rainforest environment. The animals and plants trapped in the thick resin were preserved, some of them with real fidelity.