AN American Museum of Natural History expedition -- to New Jersey -- has uncovered one of the richest deposits of amber ever found, with fossils of 100 previously unknown species of insects and plants trapped in the ancient fossilized tree sap.

The fossils include a tiny bouquet of miniature flowers from an oak tree of 90 million years ago; the world's oldest mosquito fossil, with mouth parts tough enough to feed on dinosaurs; the oldest moth in amber, with mouth parts suggesting it was in transition from a biting insect to one that fed on the nectar of flowers, and the oldest biting black fly. The last is the only such insect known from the Cretaceous period, and may have tormented duckbills and other dinosaurs along with its colleague in amber, the mosquito.

Among the other finds from the New Jersey complex of sites are the oldest mushroom, the oldest bee and a feather that is the oldest record of a terrestrial bird in North America.

Dr. David Grimaldi, curator and chairman of the entomology department at the American Museum of Natural History, who led the expedition to the secret New Jersey site, said the previously undescribed species, all extinct, were found in 80 pounds of amber drawn out of deep mud.

The ambers came from sites in central New Jersey where the clay is especially deep and rich, containing streaks of peaty black material that are the remains of plants and other organic material. It is in these rich black stripes that the amber was found.

What is most interesting to scientists is that the site has amber dating back 90 million to 94 million years. This means that all the amber-preserved species came from the age of the dinosaurs and from the era when flowers first began to proliferate. At the time, insects were beginning to use flowers as food, and flowers found the insects useful in carrying pollen from flower to flower.

An article describing the world's oldest preserved flowers, written by Dr. Grimaldi and his colleagues Kevin Nixon and William Crepet of Cornell University, is to be published soon in The American Journal of Botany. It notes that the three flowers in the little bouquet are the only known flowers preserved from the Cretaceous period, which ended 65 million years ago.

One reason the fossil flowers are important is that the flowering plants that arose during the Cretaceous eventually took over the earth's continents, dominating the landscapes in both their numbers and importance to ecosystems.

Until now, the study of plants from the Cretaceous has depended solely on impressions of flowers and pollen. Curiously, the flowers and some of the other fossils found at the New Jersey site are miniatures -- the flowers and their stem together are no more than half an inch long.

The new finds also raise the problem of what to do with the specimens. People have valued and studied creatures in amber -- ants, bees, scorpions, lizards, frogs -- for several thousand years. In the 19th century, biologists observed the insects without breaking open the amber, and classified them by physical features.

In the last few years, scientific interest has grown in the DNA locked inside the creatures inside the amber. There is a great temptation to compare it with the DNA of similar modern species. Dr. George Poinar, now at Oregon State University, one of the scientists credited with the discovery that bits of intact DNA exist in fossils inside amber, said that the material inside the insects "is the best preserved protein on the face of earth." He said, "Not only does the amber draw out the water to dehydrate the specimen, but the terpenes in the resin act as a fixative."

Inside the insects the preservation was great enough to have kept even muscle tissue intact in a 125-million-year-old Lebanese weevil that Dr. Poinar studied. To date, scientists have successfully extracted bits of DNA from half a dozen amber drops.

But should the amber be cracked open? A dispute has arisen in biology about how to handle amber specimens -- whether to open them to get at their DNA, how to open them, and whether there should be some rules guiding new expeditions and the use of existing collections.

There are tens of thousands of pieces of amber with fossil insects and other items in collections around the world, and most of them are common varieties of ants and flies. The rarest pieces contain lizards, frogs or the hairs of mammals. The color of amber ranges from the rare blue and green pieces to the more common yellow, orange and red. They can be as small as a tear or as large as a softball.

Some several thousand of the specimens contain the only examples of now-extinct species and so are true biological treasures.

Dr. Grimaldi urges caution, saying, "The possibility of studying DNA in amber fossils is exciting but also represents a serious problem." Because all creatures on earth are classified according to their physical features, and it is this that scientists use to study how evolution has created or shaped the entire history of life, Dr. Grimaldi said he believes that no specimens in amber should be tampered with unless they are quite common and others of the same species, era and location can be found to replace them.

Further, because the art of extracting DNA from amber fossils is just being developed, it is likely that for every success, three or four specimens will be damaged with no useful information gained.

Dr. Grimaldi has criticized the extraction work of scientists like Dr. Poinar, pointing out that the weevil from Lebanon was probably the only one of its kind in the world.

Dr. Grimaldi said his conservative approach is like that becoming more common in science, from archeology to paleontology, in which large parts of discovery sites are left unexcavated, so as not to destroy all evidence that might be useful to future scientists. The idea is that techniques of the future will be able to gain much more information from the same material, and random digging now might destroy it.

All amber fossils, Dr. Grimaldi says, should be coded as is now being done at the American Museum of Natural History, according to rarity, and only those with more than two or three duplicates should be subjected to DNA extraction.

Dr. Poinar, for his part, agreed that very little damage can be tolerated to rare amber fossils. But he said he and others have developed techniques to enter the fossil specimen through a tiny hole, use a needle to extract tissue with DNA, and then reseal the hole.

"This work will be going ahead, and people will be opening amber anyway, whatever we say, so we must develop ways to prevent or minimize damage to the specimens," Dr. Poinar said. The fossil insects can be kept almost perfectly intact, and besides, the marring of the surface of the insect with needle extraction causes minor damage only to one side of the specimen. The other remains untouched.

No good, says Dr. Grimaldi. "Not even the most minimal kind of damage is acceptable," he said. In one article on amber, he quoted from the poem "Hesperides," by Alexander Pope:

I saw a fly within a bead

Of amber clearly buried;

The urn was little, but the room

More rich than Cleopatra's tomb.

Scientists may be willing to plunder the tomb of Cleopatra, but Dr. Grimaldi argues they should refrain from the plunder of amber tombs. "An obsession with technological feats," Dr. Grimaldi wrote, "makes us into mere tinkerers, and distances us from social and scientific ethics."


Peter McCarthy Wholesale Clams shared Roo Mccarthy'sphoto.

Seems we wrapped up the "fall" planting of seed yesterday, January 3, after harvesting seed beds the day before. After a poor October, with Northeast winds for 23 consecutive days, November and December were good to us and much was accomplished in spite of the short daylight. As we wish all our customers and friends a Happy New Year we look forward to the coming season! In addition. much remains to be done, weather permitting. Clams screens will be built, old ones brought in for cleaning and disposal, and small harvests made from time to time. All in all, we have much to be thankful for! What a difference a year makes.


Nice right out front of AC smile emoticon yesterday

Absecon Bay Sportsman Center's photo.
Absecon Bay Sportsman Center

What a great way to start the New Year. Jay sure has his hands full with this pair of beautiful Stripers caught yesterday right in front of A.C. No need to wo...

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Full boat limit the chewed today !!!

Richard Wilkowski's photo.
Brendan Kalin's photo.
rphy to Den Mag
It's winter and instead of quit we've been blessed with a herring run! When I've been throwing day time wood offerings this 6" weakie has been my go to. Yesterday I was also throwing your chartreuse pencil! No takers but fish were caught amazingly on top water on 1/3/2016! Nature has given us all a surprise that keeps on giving! It's January and we still have a few clicks left!

New Jersey was perfect this Fall/Winter.
Look forward to seeing you Den Mag at Berkeley

Rick Murphy's photo.

Nick Luna added 3 new photos.

New peanut 4 3/4" 2 oz. I'm working on for 2017. 3 different sizes. 4 3/4" 6" and 8" bunker. Wish I could say I would have some for this years shows but I have too much on my plate at the moment. Let me know what you all think!!
Nick Luna's photo.
Nick Luna's photo.
Nick Luna's photo.

Illegal Off-Roading Crackdown


The unusually warm temperatures our area saw earlier in December have brought an influx of people from North Jersey, other counties and even other states – all of whom have descended upon portions of Lacey west of the Parkway to operate their off-road vehicles on private property in violation of local ordinances.

The out-of-towners have allegedly “harassed people on private property” and “caused purposeful malicious damage” in the course of their activities, according to authorities.

An unidentified individual we spotted illegally riding onto the Brick Wall Corp site back in July (Gavin Rozzi)

An unidentified rider we spotted riding onto the Brick Wall Corp site back in July (Gavin Rozzi)

In response to this, Lacey Police have began preventing these individuals from entering as part of a dedicated enforcement detail, in which LTPD officers turned away and educated vehicle operators rather than simply issue summonses.

“The detail was scheduled in response to repeated problems with ATVs and dirt-bikes operating on private property,” Chief David Paprota said.

He added “Due to the unusually warm weather, Lacey experienced an influx of people from North Jersey, other counties, and surrounding states.”


Sand mining operations, Pine Barrens terrain create ideal conditions

According to Chief Paprota, violations of ATV laws tend to “grow significantly” as a result of online websites and forums that have favorably shown Lacey as a place to ride.

While the soil of the Pine Barrens is naturally sandy, vast expanses of open wasteland have been created in the western portion of the township, as a side effect of sand and gravel processing operations along West Lacey Road. The mines have been frequented by individuals on dirt bikes, ATVs and other vehicles.

The areas, the majority of which are on private property, have been difficult to patrol mainly due to the sheer size as well as the landscape. To legally ride on private property, a rider must have written permission from the owner as set forth in Lacey Township Municipal Code, § 238 – 3B.

In addition to activity near the power transmission lines along West Lacey Road, police have indicated that violators are often found parking their trailers in Waretown along Wells Mills Road (Route 532) before likely heading north into Forked River.

The sand pits surrounding Clayton’s Masonry and other areas West of the Parkway entrance make an ideal location for illegal off-roading (Gavin Rozzi / TLR Drone Photo)

Police have connected some illicit riders to incidents of criminal mischief reported at Brick Wall Corp (pictured below).

“The groups brought trailers full of bikes/ATVs and staged along the powerlines and areas throughout the western part of the township.”

Paprota said that a “100 square-mile area between Waretown and Forked River,” has been seeing this issue, with areas of the township “long used for camping and riding” seeing additional activity in recent times.

“In the past, people have traveled from as far away as Ohio, Maryland, and Connecticut to camp and ride in Lacey Township.”

Shne Burke
2 new photos