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Fossil Insect Laboratory

Hexapods are one of the earliest groups of terrestrial animals, having radiated into the most diverse Class of organisms on earth. Research in the Paleoentomology laboratory addresses a fundamental question:  how did the insects and other hexapods become so diverse? This is addressed by studying past diversity and extinctions. Focus of the collections reflects historical acquisitions and current activity. There are significant holdings of terrestrial arthropods from the Late Eocene shales of Florissant, Colorado (housed in the Division of Paleontology), a large collection of arthropods in limestone from the Early Cretaceous of Brazil (in IZ), and a developing collection of insects in fine-grained shales from the mid-Triassic of Virginia. The focus, however, is on amber (see Amber, under Collections).
Excavations of amber have been made in Alabama, Alaska, New Jersey, Washington, Wyoming, and India. Excavated amber must be meticulously screened for inclusions (this is already done for pieces acquired commercially, such as Baltic and Dominican amber). The lab has trim saws, wet and dry lapidary wheels, and microscopes for this preparation. Fragile pieces (particularly ones in Cretaceous amber) are embedded in a stable epoxy (in a hood) using a vacuum, prior to trimming and grinding. Complete preparation of an inclusion in amber, from the time of excavation to study under a microscope, may take several days. The collection contains thousands of prepared amber specimens, and thousands not yet fully prepared.