Have you ever seen the original Jurassic Park movie? The concept is based on the whimsical idea that scientists can clone Dinosaurs and other prehistoric creatures that have been trapped in fossilized amber by extracting their preserved DNA.
While this idea may have been far-fetched at the time it was written, scientists today are using amber to learn some pretty interesting things. In the Discover Magazine article of March 25th, 2011, Michael Ohl, an employee of Berlin’s Museum of Natural History, has been working with the museum’s collection of prehistoric spiders trapped in amber. His work is centered around insects called mantidflies and their method of spider-boarding.
Ohl has found a beautiful example of this behavior amidst the museum’s collections. It’s a 44 million year old piece of amber with a spider inside it. And there, latched onto its underside just as its modern relatives do, is a mantidfly larva. It can be seen in the photo: it’s facing to the right and you can see the three legs on its right side.
Spider-boarding is practiced by a group of insects called mantidflies. The larvae of most mantidfly species are fussy diners – they only eat the eggs of spiders. That seems like a dangerous enough strategy, for spiders are formidable hunters. But it gets crazier – some mantidflies find spider egg sacs by hitching a ride on the backs of adults.
Amber is a window into our past. Science now has yet another link from the past to help people better understand the natural world. We commend the work of Mr. Ohl, and we hope that scientists can continue to learn about the past from amber.
Maybe one day we will be able to see the Dinosaurs in the Zoo. In the meantime we can dream about this idea while peering into one of our collectible amber stones.