Nav: Home

Scientists discover over 450 fossilized millipedes in 100-million-year-old amber

December 19, 2018

Since the success of the Jurassic Park film series, it is widely known that insects from the Age of the Dinosaurs can be found exceptionally well preserved in amber, which is in fact fossilised tree resin.

Especially diverse is the animal fauna preserved in Cretaceous amber from Myanmar (Burma). Over the last few years, the almost 100-million-year-old amber has revealed some spectacular discoveries, including dinosaur feathers, a complete dinosaur tail, unknown groups of spiders and several long extinct groups of insects.

However, as few as three millipede species, preserved in Burmese amber, had been found prior to the study of Thomas Wesener and his PhD student Leif Moritz at the Zoological Research Museum Alexander Koenig - Leibniz Institute for Animal Biodiversity (ZFMK). Their research was recently published in the open-access journal Check List.

Having identified over 450 millipedes preserved in the Burmese amber, the scientists confirmed species representing as many as 13 out of the 16 main orders walking the Earth today. The oldest known fossils for half of these orders were found within the studied amber.

The researchers conducted their analysis with the help of micro-computed tomography (micro-CT). This scanning technology uses omni-directional X-rays to create a 3D image of the specimen, which can then be virtually removed from the amber and digitally examined.

The studied amber is mostly borrowed from private collections, including the largest European one, held by Patrick Müller from Käshofen. There are thought to be many additional, scientifically important specimens, perhaps even thousands of them, currently inaccessible in private collections in China.

Over the next few years, the newly discovered specimens will be carefully described and compared to extant species in order to identify what morphological changes have occurred in the last 100 million years and pinpoint the speciation events in the millipede Tree of Life. As a result, science will be finally looking at solving long-standing mysteries, such as whether the local millipede diversity in the southern Alps of Italy or on the island of Madagascar is the result of evolutionary processes which have taken place one, ten or more than 100-million years ago.

According to the scientists, most of the Cretaceous millipedes found in the amber do not differ significantly from the species found in Southeast Asia nowadays, which is an indication of the old age of the extant millipede lineages.

On the other hand, the diversity of the different orders seems to have changed drastically. For example, during the Age of the Dinosaurs, the group Colobognatha - millipedes characterised by their unusual elongated heads which have evolved to suck in liquid food - used to be very common. In contrast, with over 12,000 millipede species living today, there are only 500 colobognaths.

Another curious finding was the discovery of freshly hatched, eight-legged juveniles, which indicated that the animals lived and reproduced in the resin-producing trees.

"Even before the arachnids and insects, and far ahead of the first vertebrates, the leaf litter-eating millipedes were the first animals to leave their mark on land more than 400-million-years ago," explain the scientists. "These early millipedes differed quite strongly from the ones living today - they would often be much larger and many had very large eyes."

The larger species in the genus Arthropleura, for example, would grow up to 2 m (6.5 ft) long and 50-80 cm (2-3 ft) wide - the largest arthropods to have ever crawled on Earth. Why these giants became extinct and those other orders survived remains unknown, partly because only a handful of usually badly preserved fossils from the whole Mesozoic era (252-66-million years ago) has been retrieved. Similarly, although it had long been suspected that the 16 modern millipede orders must be very old, a fossil record to support this assumption was missing.
-end-
Original source:

Wesener T, Moritz L (2018) Checklist of the Myriapoda in Cretaceous Burmese amber and a correction of the Myriapoda identified by Zhang (2017). Check List 14(6): 1131-1140. https://doi.org/10.15560/14.6.1131

Pensoft Publishers

Related Dinosaurs Articles:

Finding a genus home for Alaska's dinosaurs
A re-analysis of dinosaur skulls from northern Alaska suggests they belong to a genus Edmontosaurus, and not to the genus recently proposed by scientists in 2015.
Can we really tell male and female dinosaurs apart?
Scientists worldwide have long debated our ability to identify male and female dinosaurs.
In death of dinosaurs, it was all about the asteroid -- not volcanoes
Volcanic activity did not play a direct role in the mass extinction event that killed the dinosaurs, according to an international, Yale-led team of researchers.
Discriminating diets of meat-eating dinosaurs
A big problem with dinosaurs is that there seem to be too many meat-eaters.
Jurassic dinosaurs trotted between Africa and Europe
Dinosaur footprints found in several European countries, very similar to others in Morocco, suggest that they could have been dispersed between the two continents by land masses separated by a shallow sea more than 145 million years ago.
In the shadow of the dinosaurs
Research published this Wednesday in Scientific Reports describes Clevosaurus hadroprodon, a new reptile species from Rio Grande do Sul state in southern Brazil.
When the dinosaurs died, lichens thrived
When the asteroid hit, dinosaurs weren't the only ones that suffered.
Dinosaurs were thriving before asteroid strike that wiped them out
Dinosaurs were unaffected by long-term climate changes and flourished before their sudden demise by asteroid strike.
Want to learn about dinosaurs? Pick up some Louisiana roadkill
Scientists are able to learn about an animal's ecosystem by studying the chemical makeup of its body, whether the animal died recently or millions of years ago.
How did alvarezsaurian dinosaurs evolve monodactyl hand?
An international research team led by XU Xing from the Institute of Vertebrate Palaeontology and Palaeoanthropology announced the discovery of two new Chinese dinosaurs: Bannykus and Xiyunykus, in the journal Current Biology, which shed light on how alvarezsaurian dinosaurs reduced and lost their fingers.
More Dinosaurs News and Dinosaurs Current Events

Trending Science News

Current Coronavirus (COVID-19) News

Top Science Podcasts

We have hand picked the top science podcasts of 2020.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Listen Again: Meditations on Loneliness
Original broadcast date: April 24, 2020. We're a social species now living in isolation. But loneliness was a problem well before this era of social distancing. This hour, TED speakers explore how we can live and make peace with loneliness. Guests on the show include author and illustrator Jonny Sun, psychologist Susan Pinker, architect Grace Kim, and writer Suleika Jaouad.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#565 The Great Wide Indoors
We're all spending a bit more time indoors this summer than we probably figured. But did you ever stop to think about why the places we live and work as designed the way they are? And how they could be designed better? We're talking with Emily Anthes about her new book "The Great Indoors: The Surprising Science of how Buildings Shape our Behavior, Health and Happiness".
Now Playing: Radiolab

The Third. A TED Talk.
Jad gives a TED talk about his life as a journalist and how Radiolab has evolved over the years. Here's how TED described it:How do you end a story? Host of Radiolab Jad Abumrad tells how his search for an answer led him home to the mountains of Tennessee, where he met an unexpected teacher: Dolly Parton.Jad Nicholas Abumrad is a Lebanese-American radio host, composer and producer. He is the founder of the syndicated public radio program Radiolab, which is broadcast on over 600 radio stations nationwide and is downloaded more than 120 million times a year as a podcast. He also created More Perfect, a podcast that tells the stories behind the Supreme Court's most famous decisions. And most recently, Dolly Parton's America, a nine-episode podcast exploring the life and times of the iconic country music star. Abumrad has received three Peabody Awards and was named a MacArthur Fellow in 2011.