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Life in Amber

Modern insects are not likely inclusions in amber. It has been reported that some amber is bored and insects or small animals "introduced"; then the hole is filled with some modern resin of the same color. Most of the insects embalmed in amber are extinct species. It the embalmed inclusion in the resin is from an extant species, or one that may be found in nature, the resin is most likely copal and not amber.

Inclusions in amber can be both organic and inorganic. Sulfur and pyrite (fool's gold) are examples of inorganic inclusions. Black inclusions can be decayed botanical debris, carbonized wood, cones, needles, and bark. Over a thousand species of insects and crustacea have been found and when amber is in contact with the sea, barnacles and other skeletons of colonial crustaceans will cover the surface. (Warning: The examples below are mostly external links, therefore you need to hit the back button each time to return to this page.) Entombed lizards do attract much attention, but most of the trapped remains are flies (account for 54% of the insects trapped). Different species embalmed in amber include: flies, ants, beetles, moths, spiders, centipedes, millipedes, termites, mayflies, lice, mites, gnats, bees, wasps, scorpions, cockroachs, grasshoppers, damselflies and fleas. One Dominican amber source reported finding a butterfly with a 5 inch wing spread; this is both a large and unusual find, most butterfly specimens are no more than a 2 inch wing spread. Inclusions in Dominican amber are numerous, 1 inclusion to every 100 pieces; Baltic amber contains approximately 1 inclusion to every 1000 pieces.

Species of spore-producing (gynmosperms) and seed-producing flowering plants (angiosperms) have been identified in amber. Gymnosperm enclosures are fir, cypress, juniper, pine, spruce and Arbor vitae. Angiosperms are represented by oaks (as many as 15 different kinds of oak), beech, maple, chestnut, magnolia, and cinnamon. Remains of palms, ferns, mosses, and flowering herbaceous plants also formed a ground cover in the ancient forests. Leaf imprints with detailed vein and cell structures are preserved, along with buds and blossoms. Even mushrooms, mammal bones, feathers, and mammal hair may be preserved in amber.

The discoidal fissures or sun spangles found in amber are believed to be caused by droplets of trapped water and air, which form the flattened to circular shapes after heating the amber. These sun spangles were produced from the many air bubbles. When the sun spangles have brown edges, the amber was probably "clarified." Clarified amber occurs when the rough material is immersed in oil (rapeseed preferred) and slowly heated. The natural air bubbles give amber the cloudy appearance and clarifying fills these air spaces with oil. The composition of air bubbles has been studied by Landis. Using a gas quadrupole mass spectrometer, he has documented that 67 million years ago, the Earth's atmosphere contained 35 percent oxygen compared with 21 percent today.

Find out more at these sites for New Jersey amber finds:

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