The 1993 film "Jurassic Park" was based on the premise that scientists were able to extract dinosaur DNA from ancient mosquitoes that fed on the prehistoric reptiles and had been preserved in tree resin. That story line is science fiction, but real scientists have discovered what is being called the largest amber deposit ever found — and it's loaded with perfectly preserved ancient bugs, according to The Independent.
The deposit, which is the first to be discovered in India, is probably larger than the current record holders in the amber-rich Baltic region of Russia, Germany, Ukraine and Poland. Even more valuable than the amber itself, however, is the treasure trove of ancient insects found trapped inside. Prehistoric bees, ants, spiders and mites that become encased within the amber over 50 million years ago can now be studied in unprecedented detail.
Usually bugs found trapped in ancient amber deposits are empty shells, with just their exoskeletons preserved. Their soft inner tissues rarely survive the millennia of decay intact. That's one of the main reasons the fantasy presented in "Jurassic Park" could never become a reality. But the bugs found in the new Indian deposit are different. They're some of the best preserved specimens ever found, with surprisingly well-preserved soft tissues.
"We are able to dissolve the amber and get the specimens completely out," said professor Jes Rust of Bonn University in Germany, who pioneered the effort to uncover the insects. "This is really outstanding. It's like getting a complete dinosaur out of the amber and being able to put it under the microscope."
In reality, these 50-million-year-old bugs would have survived the extinction of the dinosaurs, and would have lived at a time before mammals evolved. Though most of the creatures are ancient species, one species of ant belongs to a genus that is still alive today in Australia.
"The amber shows, similar to an old photo, what life looked like in India just before the collision with the Asian continent. The insects trapped in the fossil resin cast a new light on the history of the sub-continent," Rust said.
In all, 700 specimens have been found in the amber so far, but scientists say they have only just scratched the surface. "There is an enormous volume of amber to be found. This is just the beginning," added Rust.