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Amber is Awesome

This article first appeared in the 8/16/19 edition of the Davis Enterprise.

Amber is Awesome

Baltic amber inclusion-Ant-About 7mm long. Photo author is Anders L. Damgaard, obtained from Wikimedia Commons.

Amber is Awesome

 

By Sara Thompson

Special to the Enterprise

 

 

Several trees in the pine family naturally secrete a resin from its bark.  It is liquid at first but will dry and harden into a waxy substance.  If this resin then becomes a fossil, it is known as amber. Amber is found worldwide and is found mainly in Cretaceous rocks or younger, but some older samples have been found.  Even though it has become a rock through fossilization, it falls between 2 and 2.5 on the Mohs hardness scale, which is soft enough to be scratched by a finger nail. Although most commonly found as an “amber” color (a mix of yellow, orange, and brown), its color can range from pale yellow to almost black.  Some uncommon colors include a cherry red, green, with the rarest being blue.

 

With its variety of colors and its waxy to shiny luster, amber is popular in jewelry making.  The softness of the amber also makes it easy to manipulate and form into a variety of sizes and shapes.  Amber has been used for jewelry as early as the Stone Age, some 13,000 years ago.  

 

Normally having hard body parts, like bones or shells, help an organism to become a fossil, but some plants and insects with softer body parts are usually lost.  Because of its association with trees, amber has the potential to preserve organism that are usually lost to decomposition.  The tree resin is so sticky, insects can become entrapped in it, or it can pick up dust or plant matter, making it possible to preserve these organisms that are usually lost to time.

 

One of the more famous amber inclusions are insects. Not only mosquitos are found in amber, but also fleas, ants, angel insects, beetles, planthoppers, roaches, and more have been found.  Spiders and harvestman have also been found, some with their webs, and with a meal on the rare occasion.  Even animals as large as salamanders, chameleons, geckos, and frogs have been found. Although smaller than our present-day varieties, some were able to have their entire bodies encased in amber for preservation.  In 2001, a dinosaur feather was discovered preserved in amber, aiding in the idea that some dinosaurs may have spent some time in trees.

 

One of the most common amber inclusions are plant matter. Because amber is generated from tree resin, it would make sense that flowers and pollen from those or neighboring plants would be included.  It is incredibly uncommon for flowers and plants to be preserved in the fossil record, so amber has helped scientists to get a better glimpse of paleoenvironments than just the rock record could have given them.  Bacteria and amoebas have also been found preserved in amber when looked at under microscopes.

 

Explorit may not have any amber, but we do have a variety of fossils that can be seen during our regular public hours.  Our current exhibit is Earth Exploration, and it will only be around until the end of September, so come visit while you can.

 

We are saddened by the recent passing of Anne Hance, co-founder of Explorit Science Center.  The Explorit community will greatly miss her.  To read more about Anne see our website: www.explorit.org. Per Anne’s request, memorial funds can be sent to http://www.explorit.org/support/make-a-donation/make-a-donation.

 

 

 

Explorit's coming events:



  • Visit Explorit's latest exhibition, Earth Explorations. Explorit'sExploration Galleryis open to the public every Wednesday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday, 1:00-5:00 p.m.  Admission is $5.00 per person; Explorit members, teachers and children 2 and under are free.

 

 

Next exhibit in the Anne Hance Exploration Gallery will be Light & Sound.  Grand opening Sunday, September 29, 2019.  More information coming soon, keep checking our website at http://www.explorit.org.

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