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Thursday, August 21, 2008

Unknown Insect Discovered on eBay

Scientist discovers a previously unknown insect - after buying it encased in amber on eBay

Dr Richard Harrington thought he was buying just an interesting curio when he paid £20 for the fossilised insect encased in amber.

But it turned out to be a long extinct type of aphid which became trapped in the resin as it seeped from a tree millions of years ago.

It has now been named after Dr Harrington, vice-president of the UK's Royal Entomological Society, who specialises in aphids.

He bought the fossil on the internet auction site from a man in Lithuania.

Because he couldn't identify it himself Dr Harrington, who works at the world-famous Rothamsted Research in Hertfordshire, sent it to fossil aphid expert Professor Ole Heie in Denmark. He confirmed that it was from a previously undescribed species.

"I was interested to see what it was because I've worked with a team of people involved in monitoring and forecasting aphids, those of greenfly and their relatives in this country," Dr Harrington said.

"I looked at it with my team and we thought we could identify it down to the level of genus, but we had no idea what the species was."

The 3-4mm insect is encased in a 40-50m -year-old piece of amber about the size of a small pill.

"I had thought it would be rather nice to call it Mindarus ebayi," said Dr Harrington.

"Unfortunately using flippant names to describe new species is rather frowned upon these days."

Instead, Professor Heie named the new species Mindarus harringtoni after Dr Harrington.

"It's not uncommon to find insects in amber... but I'm not sure that one has turned up on eBay that has been undiscovered before. It's a rather unusual route to come by," said Dr Harrington.