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What are Some Animals That Have Been Trapped in Amber?

Remarkably, amber has preserved ancient life, capturing insects, spiders, and even feathers in its golden clasp for millions of years. These tiny time capsules offer a unique glimpse into prehistoric ecosystems. Imagine the secrets held within this natural time machine. What other astonishing discoveries might amber reveal about the past? Join us as we explore these remarkable snapshots of ancient life.
Michael Anissimov
Michael Anissimov
Michael Anissimov
Michael Anissimov

Amber is a gold substance formed from the fossilized resin or sap of trees. It is sometimes called fossil resin, and the fossilization process is primarily one of polymerization, where monomers in the resin form into longer and stabler polymer chains. It only forms when there are large quantities of sap available, and that sap gets trapped under the earth, leading to pressure over timescales of millions of years. Semi-fossilized amber, intermediate between the resin and amber stage, is called copal. Most pieces are about 30 to 100 million years old, dating all the way back to the Cretaceous Period, when dinosaurs dominated the Earth.

This material is often used as a gemstone for jewelry, although it is not a mineral. One of the reasons amber is famous are for its occasional inclusions — peculiarities in the resin that reveal a bit of trapped organic or inorganic material. Organic inclusions are the most popular, and may sell for millions of dollars to collectors. Organic inclusions are caused when some animal, usually an insect, gets stuck in the drying tree sap and is trapped in the amber forever.

Frogs are sometimes found in amber.
Frogs are sometimes found in amber.

Some animals that get trapped in amber include flies, ants, beetles, moths, spiders, centipedes, millipedes, termites, mayflies, lice, mites, gnats, bees, wasps, scorpions, cockroaches, grasshoppers, damselflies, butterflies, and fleas. Flies (order Diptera) are the most common inclusion, making up 54% of all finds. Non-insect finds include plants such as fir, cypress, juniper, pine, spruce, oaks, beech, maple, chestnut, magnolia, and cinnamon, palms, ferns, and mosses.

Butterflies are sometimes found in amber.
Butterflies are sometimes found in amber.

Some of the rarest finds are inclusions that are neither plant nor insect: lizards, worms, spiders, frogs, crustaceans, mushrooms, mammal bones, feathers, and mammal hair. Larger animals, such as most mammals, are too big to get trapped in tree resin, easily stepping out of it even if they are stuck momentarily. Sometimes the resin makes contact with water before it forms into amber, and will be filled with inclusions of marine crustaceans. Altogether, about 1000 species of animals have been found in this way.

Amber inclusions are somewhat rare but not incredibly so. In Dominican amber, 1 inclusion can be found in every 100 or so pieces, in Baltic amber, inclusions are found in every 1000 or so pieces.

Michael Anissimov
Michael Anissimov

Michael is a longtime AllTheScience contributor who specializes in topics relating to paleontology, physics, biology, astronomy, chemistry, and futurism. In addition to being an avid blogger, Michael is particularly passionate about stem cell research, regenerative medicine, and life extension therapies. He has also worked for the Methuselah Foundation, the Singularity Institute for Artificial Intelligence, and the Lifeboat Foundation.

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Michael Anissimov
Michael Anissimov

Michael is a longtime AllTheScience contributor who specializes in topics relating to paleontology, physics, biology, astronomy, chemistry, and futurism. In addition to being an avid blogger, Michael is particularly passionate about stem cell research, regenerative medicine, and life extension therapies. He has also worked for the Methuselah Foundation, the Singularity Institute for Artificial Intelligence, and the Lifeboat Foundation.

Learn more...

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Discussion Comments

anon190547

Is this true with the mosquito from the movie jurassic park? would the mosquito still hold blood in it?

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    • Frogs are sometimes found in amber.
      Frogs are sometimes found in amber.
    • Butterflies are sometimes found in amber.
      By: NJ
      Butterflies are sometimes found in amber.
    • Amber.
      By: tadoma
      Amber.
    • Grasshoppers have been trapped in amber.
      By: Eric Isselée
      Grasshoppers have been trapped in amber.
    • Cockroaches have been trapped in amber.
      By: gosphotodesign
      Cockroaches have been trapped in amber.
    • Scorpions have been trapped in amber.
      By: StanOd
      Scorpions have been trapped in amber.
    • Ferns have been found trapped in amber.
      By: vencav
      Ferns have been found trapped in amber.
    • Mushrooms have been found encased in amber.
      By: Evgenia Silaeva
      Mushrooms have been found encased in amber.
    • Millipedes have been found trapped in amber.
      By: Piano107
      Millipedes have been found trapped in amber.