Fossils being discovered in amber typically conjure up memories of Jurassic Park and the idea of resurrecting long-extinct species. For now, that is very much science fiction, but amber fossils have quite a lot to teach us by providing a snapshot of what life was like eons ago. A newly-discovered amber fossil has been found to contain a cluster of small flowers, with one flower in the process of sexual reproduction. The announcement comes from a team of researchers from Oregon State University and Germany, and the paper was published in the Journal of the Botanical Research Institute of Texas.
The flowers, which have been preserved in exceptional condition, are an extinct species that lived 100 million years ago in the Cretaceous period. The fossil was recovered from an amber mine in Myanmar (in what used to be known as Burma), and the flower which represents a new genus and species has been described and named Micropetasos burmensis to reflect the location of the discovery. What’s most impressive is that one of the 18 flowers in the process of sexual reproduction, making it the first known flower from this time period to have this process preserved.
Amber fossils are made from resin, which is a sticky, viscous material from trees. If there are living organisms in its path while it is dripping, they can quickly become covered in the honey-colored goo. Over the next few million years, the resin is exposed to variable levels of heat and pressure, until it is converted into amber, a semiprecious gemstone. Just like other processes of fossilization, amber formation can be interrupted. Exposure to weather and microorganisms can prevent the resin from becoming amber, and the enclosed organism (if there is one) can be lost.
Because the flowers were covered so quickly, the resin was able to capture intricate details that would have been lost in other preservation methods. This flower still shows the pollen tube entering the stigma of the flower. The individual pollen grains can be seen plainly under a microscope and according to the researchers, they appear to have been sticky. This means it would have required the use of insects or animals to distribute pollen.