The preservation of ancient life in amber has fascinated civilization through ages and this mystical phenomenon still attracts people to get to know more about amber and even and hold in hand and wear - a piece of history that is so ancient. Amber is really an exquisite preservation of ancient life within its golden tomb. Perhaps amber was an inspiration for the Pharaohs to build the Great Pyramids?
There are about 3,000 catalogued specimens of amber inclusions. The best specimens contain exquisitely preserved life forms and command high prices from private collectors and museums. The most common mystical inclusions in amber are primary as follows:
The insect inclusions in amber have been amazing. The details that we see in some amber are sometimes complete and to minute to the last details such as tiniest hairs or scales of insects. Most of the insects were trapped into the tree resin when they were alive, sometimes being rolled into the globes of flowing tree resin or sometimes being blown by the wind into it. Generally, only small and tiny insects, which were tree-living, got entrapped since bigger and water-living insects could escape. Some of these insects, e.g. orthoptera are a biggest rarity, others, like dipterous, make up the biggest part of inclusions.
Spiders, scorpions, false scorpions and ticks! About 267 species of spiders, mostly tropical and subtropical, have been found in amber. Of all Arachnids found in amber most common "prisoners" are forest-living spiders that used to live on plants, under bark. Besides spiders the products of their activity - fine webs with particles of wood or dew-drops, even their prey that had been sucked out and became dry - very often occur in pieces of amber.
Lizards! Other animals or their fragments such as lizards, snails and worms have also been found in amber. These inclusions are considered rare and can only be found in museums. One unique inclusion of snail's shell is exhibited in Amber Museum in Vilnius.
Species of oak, beech, pine, maple leaves, needles, flowers, small twigs and even fruits have also been found in a few cases. Beside that, plenty of spores, mainly of mushrooms and green moss, and pollen are found.
Amber, or fossilized tree sap, was made famous in the movie "Jurassic Park". It is a fossil resin and can contain many preserved insects and other animals and plants that are tens of millions of years old. The odd inclusions that are often seen in amber usually add to amber's unique look and in many cases greatly increase its value.
Modern insects are not likely inclusions in amber. It has been reported that some amber is bored and insects or small animals "introduced"; then the hole is filled with some modern resin of the same color. Most of the insects embalmed in amber are extinct species. It the embalmed inclusion in the resin is from an extant species, or one that may be found in nature, the resin is most likely copal and not amber.
Inclusions in amber can be both organic and inorganic. Sulfur and pyrite (fool's gold) are examples of inorganic inclusions. Black inclusions can be decayed botanical debris, carbonized wood, cones, needles, and bark. Over a thousand species of insects and crustacea have been found and when amber is in contact with the sea, barnacles and other skeletons of colonial crustaceans will cover the surface.
The fossils that are encased in amber probably got there when they flew or crawled on to the fresh seeping sap and then got stuck. The sap oozed over the trapped animals and perhaps fell to the ground and was later covered by dirt and debris. The sap later hardened and became a fossil. Well preserved specimens of extinct insects and plant material, have been found in amber. The fossils are mostly insects such as gnats, flies, wasps, bees and ants, and occasionally more exotic insects are trapped in the amber such as grasshoppers, preying mantises, beetles, moths, termites, butterflies, etc. Other non-insect animals are found in amber too such as spiders, centipedes, scorpions and even frogs and lizards. No really large animals like mammals or birds are seen in amber but feathers and fur have been seen. Invaluable plant remains have also been found in amber including flowers, mushroom caps, seeds, leaves, stems, pine needles and pine cones. The rarity of the trapped fossils controls the value of the amber more so than the quality of the amber. Remember these are fossils and are not the same species that are alive today.
Amber has greatly increased the knowledge of the evolution of insects and plants as well as enlivening the interest in paleontology in general. These are valuable evidence for geologists and zoologists too. These inclusions can also add interest to amber as jewelry. Insects are also found in copal resins, and have been used in pressed amber and other imitations for sale to collectors and tourists, sometimes fraudulently. Experts can distinguish fakes because they use extant rather than extinct insects, and there is often air trapped around the included insects, and other evidence of manufacture.
Though, amber could be of bad luck for the insects, spiders and other arthropods which were attracted to the fresh resin and were trapped there - but proved to be of extremely good source of information for the scientists who could study these trapped insects and animals many millions of years later. Of the 26 orders of insects, only three have not yet been found in amber: proturans (very tiny primitive insects), anoplurans (sucking lice) and mallophogans (chewing lice). Some of the more spectacular finds are a mating pair of small gnats; a very tiny orthezid (scale insect) giving birth, with five or six young emerging from an egg mass; an intact and well-preserved lizard about 45 cm long; a male and female scorpion in one piece; and three lace bugs (family Tingidae) with the delicate tracery of their wings preserved in a perfect state or all eternity. In addition to insects, the list includes spiders of several families, millipedes, centipedes, sow bugs (isopods), snails, nematodes, earth worms, pseudoscorpions, daddy-long-legs (Opilionidae), mites, tick, a fragment of bird feather and mammalian hairs. All these, entombed in amber, provide the scientist of today with a veritable museum laboratory in which he can study the life of a long-ago era and compare it with the modern. The rare specimens, of course, belong in a museum.
If the animal was covered with a fresh flow of resin before decomposition, then the preservation of the body form is perfect. You can, with a good magnifying lens or microscope, see very clearly the fine hairs on an insect's legs, the individual facets of the compound eyes and the individual scales on a moth's wings. Sometimes even the colors are preserved - brilliant greens and blues, and warm reds, browns and orange. However, in most cases, the soft internal tissues have long since dried out and what we see is the outer casing or shell of the body, while the body cavity itself is empty, with perhaps a little dust inside. Once in a while the fresh resin flows into and fills the body cavity, and preserves even the cellular structure to the extent that in one case a scientist in California is going to try to revive, after 40 million years, the DNA substance in the fossil body of a fungus gnat.