Paleontologists could see the colors of the Mesozoic insects from amber

Chinese paleontologists have found that the structural color of insects from the Mesozoic can still be seen today, reported in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences. For example, well-preserved in Burmese amber, wasps, flies and beetles, they showed that the nanostructures on their surfaces, providing a distinctive glimpse, persist for millions of years. The maximum of the reflectance spectrum they have is in the area of 514 nanometers, and this means that insects amber was blue-green. Perhaps this painting served as his camouflage.

In nature three main sources colors: pigments (dyes like purple), bioluminescence (often provided by special proteins-enzymes) and nanostructures (of different properties of surfaces, light is reflected differently). The most persistent of them — the last one. In their case, the coloration of the body is not determined by the chemistry and physics of materials. Structural colors are often also brighter than the rest: they are what we see on the “tails” of the peacock, the butterfly’s wings, the elytra bronzovok, skin chameleon and much more.

Colouring plays an important role in the life of organisms: it allows you to distinguish foreign from their own, transmit a signal, to pretend to be another species or gender, to merge with the surrounding objects, and much more. Therefore, the knowledge about what was the colour of an extinct animal, contributes to the understanding of its behavior and ecology. To restore the color of the body, if not preserved his skin, almost impossible, so more or less precisely it is known only for mummies mammals (e.g. cave lions) and those who were preserved in amber.

A lot of amber is mined in Myanmar (though not all of it obtained legally, and totally for peaceful purposes, it must be admitted that it is a rich source of paleontological material). From there, there are insects whose structural color were analyzed Chinese paleontologists led by Juan Dhinam (Huang Diying) from the Nanjing Institute of Geology and palaeontology, Chinese Academy of Sciences. They used 35 invertebrates from Burmese amber, which is about 99 million years old (Cenomanian stage, upper Cretaceous).

Fragments of amber with insects (wasps, flies and beetles) in them polished to get close to the animals as close as possible, but not to damage them. The body surface of these insects was a picture of a normal SLR camera. However, two wasps specifically cut off part of the cuticle (the skin) to explore the structure of its surface. Sections of cuticle with a thickness of 70 nanometers was studied by means of transmission electron and scanning electron microscopy.

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