Earlier today I attended a talk by David Penney, a world expert on fossils in amber, particularly spiders. The talk was held at Doncaster Museum and Art Galleries, and will hopefully mean more palaeontological talks will take place there in the future. Penney is a researcher at the University of Manchester and also has his own publishing company, Siri Scientific Press, through which he has also written many of his own books, including the recent Fossils in Amber: Remarkable snapshots of prehistoric forest life, co-authored with David I. Green.
Fossils in amber are amongst the most stunning fossils you could possibly hope to see, so the talk was both informative and visually appealing. I find parasitism in the fossil record fascinating, so I am pleased that Dr Penney did not skip over some of the excellent examples which have been preserved in amber. Around this time last year the news broke that a spider had been preserved in amber, along with a mite who had come along for the ride and gotten preserved on its host (see here). It is an excellent example of the use of technology in studying fossils in amber. In the picture below you can see the spider in amber, as seen through a light microscope.
Palaeontologists studying fossils in amber use a variety of photographic techniques in order to get such beautiful imagery. There was an excellent article on these, authored by Penney and Green, in Issue 27 of Deposits magazine (see also Issue 26 for a great article on biodiversity in amber). They also use CT scanning in order to produce some incredible images which allow these fossils to be studied in detail. Below is the same spider, sporting its mite parasite, as seen through CT scanning (minus the legs).
Amber is an excellent source for studying behaviour in ancient life. Flies can be seen mating, parasites escaping their hosts, spiders on webs hunting prey, and more. Palaeocast recently did a podcast on parasitism in amber.
I’d love to say more about the talk, but I don’t think I could do it justice (especially as right now I just seem to be sticking the same adjectives in every sentence). I do recommend reading any articles and books by Penney, even if just for the beautiful images, you will almost certainly marvel at what has been found.