This compilation of nine recent bug drawings reminded me of flies fossilised in amber. When I was a little girl my Grandad (”Bumpy Yoyo”) had a piece of amber with flies in it, and I thought it was the most magical thing I had ever seen (apart from the prism he also had). He would tell me how the flies got in there and how old they were, which boggled my mind.
Reflecting on this memory today, I began to wonder what kind of flies are preserved in amber - they must be very old. How do they compare to the flies and bugs which populate our world today?
This extraordinary photo by J.A. Peñas is a rendering of an extinct zhangsolvid fly and the gymnosperm plant it helped to pollinate. Gymnosperm plants are the ancient predecessors of our modern conifers. Recent research at the American Museum of Natural History has been investigating whether prehistoric insects, like those of the modern world, were pollenators. Scientists were able to draw the evidence they required from a fly fossilised in a piece of amber from Spain, dated 100 million years old. A clump of pollen grains was still attached to the extinct fly, enabling then to identify the gymnosperm plant and examine the fly:
“The scientific team could also examine the fly more closely to determine details about the specimen and learn more about its adaptations. In addition to a long “tongue,” a feature zhangsolvid flies share with modern pollinators like hawk moths and orchid bees, the flies also have wings that are well suited for hovering. That’s helpful to pollinators since getting a meal involves flying next to the same spot for a moment, as demonstrated in this animated recreation of zhangsolvid feeding.”
Much-loved amber jewellery we are all familiar with, and its use in perfumery is widepread. Amber also has a place in folk medicine where it is used to draw out disease, as a wound-healing stone and to relieve headaches and joint pain. But I didn’t know until today that amber is used to flavour the Scandinavian spirit akvavit.
I have an image in my mind of a glass of akvavit with lumps of amber instead of ice cubes, the fly inclusion being the equivalent of the mezcal tequila worm!
Heather Eliza Walker
Artist in Edinburgh, Scotland