Kansas University researchers have helped scientists unlock some of the fossilized mysteries encased in 95-million-year-old African amber.
The amber deposit, found in Ethiopia, includes remains of ants, wasps and spiders that can provide new insight into how those species lived during the Cretaceous period, when dinosaurs still roamed the earth.
“All of the specimens that are found in these amber deposits can tell us a lot about evolution,” said Erin Saupe, a KU graduate student who studied a spider fossil found in the deposit.
The amber fossils are the first found on the African continent, and so are useful in determining new information about very old bugs.
Twenty different researchers from seven countries analyzed the amber, its contents and the geological setting. KU was chosen to assist because of Saupe’s mentor, Paul Selden, distinguished professor of geology and an expert on spider fossils.
The team’s research was published in this week’s edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Saupe’s spider was only the third spider fossil to be fully described on the African continent, and represents the second-oldest sheet-web weaving spider ever found.
Another KU post-doctoral student found an ant that turned out to be one of the oldest known relatives of its modern-day diverse and dominant group.
But there could still be more to come.
“It’s especially exciting for me because we don’t know what other species could be found” inside the amber, Saupe said.