20-million-year-old Grasshopper from Dominican Republic

Two scientist at the Illinois Natural History Survey (INHS), have found samples of hair, ants, beetles, mites, spiders, plant remnants and fungi, which may have been fossilized in amber between 18 and 20 million years ago.

Paleontologist Sam Heads and laboratory technician Jared Thomas, are screening more than 160 pounds of amber collected in the Dominican Republic by entomologist Milton Sanderson (1910–2012), in 1959.

From 1942 until his retirement in 1975, Sanderson worked at the Illinois Natural History Survey. During his long career, he travelled widely pursuing his interest in beetles. During an NSF-funded fieldtrip to the Caribbean island of Hispaniola, he collected more than 160 lbs of amber in the Dominican Republic, which he packed into 5 gallon drums and shipped back to INHS. On his return, he examined the amber and discovered insect and plant inclusions.

Together with his colleague, Thomas Farr, Sanderson published a short essay in the Journal Science documenting the discovery.

For more than 50 years, Sanderson's amber remained locked away at the INHS. And it wasn't until 2010, that the drums were reopened for a slow and lengthy screening process which has now caught the attention of the science world.

Within the amber the scientist found a pygmy locust (tiny grasshopper), estimated to have lived 18- to 20-million years ago, and which fed on moss, algae and fungi.

The specimen is considered and important and remarkable find, because it represents an intermediate stage of evolution in the life of its subfamily of locusts (known as the Cladonotinae).

The most ancient representatives of this group had wings, while modern counterparts do not. The newly discovered locust has what appear to be vestigial wings — remnant structures that had already lost their primary function.

In the Journal Science essay, Sanderson's says that the amber samples were collected at an area in Pico Diego de Ocampo, which is the highest point in the Cordillera Septentrional in the Santiago, Dominican Republic.

Sources: Illinois Natural History Survey (INHS), Science Journal, ZooKeys, worldtracker.org