Insects trapped in amber raise questions about India’s origins

Published on November 25th, 2010 | by Sevaan Franks

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A veritable trove of insects found preserved in amber for millions of years is raising questions about how long India was isolated before it merged with the Asian continent.

The insects – bees, termites, spiders, and flies – had been entombed in the vast Cambay deposit in western India for about 50 million years.

Scientists had long assumed that India was for a time an isolated island-continent, and consequently expected the insects found in the amber would differed significantly from those elsewhere in Asia.

But researchers wrote in their study appearing in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that the insects were not unique as would be expected had India been sequestered for as long as they originally believed.

“We know India was isolated, but when and for precisely how long is unclear,” says David Grimaldi, curator in the Division of Invertebrate Zoology at the American Museum of Natural History.

“The biological evidence in the amber deposit shows that there was some biotic connection,” he wrote, suggesting that an extended separation would have given rise to a unique flora and fauna.

India separated from present-day Africa and after about 50 million years collided with Asia, creating the Himalayas.

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