News & Current Affairs

August 20, 2008

eBay insect fossil is new species

eBay insect fossil is new species

Aphid fossil (Richard Harrington)

The fossil was bought for just £20

A scientist who bought a fossilized insect on the web auction site eBay for £20 has discovered that it belongs to a previously unknown species of aphid.

Dr Richard Harrington, vice-president of the UK’s Royal Entomological Society, bought the fossil from an individual in Lithuania.

He then sent it off to an aphid expert in Denmark, who confirmed the insect was a new species, now extinct.

The bug has been named Mindarus harringtoni after the scientist.

I had thought it would be rather nice to call it Mindarus ebayi
Dr Richard Harrington, Rothamsted

“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 told.

“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.”

Dr Harrington sent the specimen to Professor Ole Heie, a fossil aphid expert in Denmark.

“He discovered that it was something that hadn’t been described before,” Dr Harrington explained.

The insect itself is 3-4mm long and is encased in a 40-50 million-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 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 [a new species],” the researcher, based at Rothamsted Research in Hertfordshire, explained.

He said the insect would have fed on a tree called Pinetes succinifer which is itself now long since extinct.

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