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Unique images bring fossil insects back to life
29 July 2014
A ground breaking new book that brings together two of the major disciplines behind Jurassic Park is aiming to raise the profile of insect fossils through stunning photographs and unique illustrations.
Fossil Insects, by Dr David Penney and James E Jepson, details the incredible preservation and diversity of fossilised insects from around the world, setting the scene for what these remarkable fossils can tell us about the ancient and modern worlds, and even the future of our planet. Like the mosquito in Jurassic Park, many of the hundreds of thousands of specimens of ancient insect have been preserved in amber.
Using pioneering scientific methods and state of the art technology Dr David Penney from The University of Manchester has drawn on his knowledge of both entomology and palaeontology to discover some astonishing things about these fossilized creatures during the course of his research.
He says: “Insects are the most diverse group of creatures on the planet today. Many of them were around even before the time of the dinosaurs. Bringing together entomology and palaeontology through the study of insect fossils has great potential for revolutionising what we know about both subjects.”
The ancient insects have been brought to life in the book through illustrations that for the first time depict long vanished arthropods living among the flora and fauna during the age of the dinosaurs. In a unique collaboration the artist Richard Bizley has created seven reconstructions of each of the major periods from the Devonian through to the Tertiary.
To make the animals in his paintings look realistic, Richard created models using scientific drawings and pictures of fossils. He then photographed them to see how the light behaves.
Richard says: “When reconstructing fossil insect species, special attention needs to be paid to important diagnostic features, such as the wing venation patterns and the relative lengths of appendage segments. The fact that many fossil insect species are known only from isolated wings posed additional problems. This is where the collaboration with experts became very useful and I worked closely with Dr Penney to produce an accurate reconstruction based on the comparative study of both fossil and living insects.”
He continues: “Plants can be difficult, especially as we are unsure how some of them looked. It is rare to get a fossil of a whole plant, so I had to paint according to the best estimation of how they looked, using the evidence available. Fortunately, scientists have learnt enough to provide some good ideas and many living plants are closely related to those that have become extinct.”
Whilst Jurassic Park remains a fantasy for now Dr Penney says the book and the film did result in an increase in research on fossil insects. He’s now hoping that his book, Fossil Insects, will open up the research to even more people.
He says: “This is the first book to merge these two disciplines in an accessible way, using plain and simple language. It is a book for anyone with a passion for palaeontology and/or entomology.”