How Often Are Insect Fossils Found in Amber?

  1. How common is it to find fossilized insects entombed in Amber?

    I ask because there is a jewelry vendor here in Maui who claims that her amber jewelry encapsulating a variety of insects were created naturally, mined in the Baltic area and are thousands of years old. She sure has a lot of these pieces and since I wouldn't know a modern mosquito from an ancient variety and since she seems to have an endless supply of these insects in amber, I'm skeptical.

    Thanks! :smile:
  2. jcsd
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  3. Simon Bridge

    Simon Bridge 14,660
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    It is extremely common. When the tree resin initially exudes, it is usually sugary so it attracts insects.

    It used to be that the insect would be cut out of the amber because it lowered the value but the success of Jurassic Park has changed that.

    The story is entirely plausible - it takes tree resin millions of years (conservative estimate) to turn into amber so insects stuck in amber must have got there millions of years ago.

    ... since the seller is claiming 1000s of years, that's a red flag. It may be Copal that she is selling, which is sometimes sold as "Baltic amber".

    You can heat Copal and push modern insects into it - this gets a nice-looking specimen, which can be as large as you like. You can look online for pictures of the genuine article since it is the condition of the insects that gives you the first clue... a large "well posed" insect is another red flag.

    A mosquito would be another red flag btw. They are not normally interested in sugar from sap so don't hang around by trees. iirc There is one recorded from Canadian amber, only a handful known in Baltic amber and a few tens in Dominican amber.

    You can test amber by smell - you have to warm it up.
    Rubbing in your hands, or insertion of a hot needle are common ways.
    You can also test it by IR spectroscopy - which is best.

    Note: Some care needs to be taken over amber websites - there is a lot of quackery associated with the stuff.
    Last edited: May 24, 2014
  4. Thank you, Simon.

    I'll read the links to learn more and take a close look at the photos to see how they compare with the pieces she displays. I had no idea that it was so common, but now that you noted the resin was "sweet", it makes sense. So glad I posted the question on this forum!
  5. Simon Bridge

    Simon Bridge 14,660
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    No worries.
    Like I said, you still have to be careful - people still manufacture good looking specimens for sale as found items.
    But if it is real amber, then anything in there is Old.
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