Sticky Situation: Million-Year-Old Bugs Preserved in Fossilized Amber

spiderattackIf you’ve ever handled a freshly cut Christmas tree or spent an afternoon climbing a neighborhood pine, you know that trees can get pretty sappy. Part of the healing process for a tree that loses a limb or gets a cut in its bark is to fill in the damaged area with sticky, gooey, sappy resin.

This helps the tree form something like a scab. The scab keeps out bad things (like germs) and keeps in good things (like water).

While this excellent healing process is great for the tree, it can be pretty crummy for insects that come along and get stuck in the sap.

But that is not the end of the story.

Fast forward a few million years, and the scientist of today can find well-preserved insect fossils still in the sappy resin. By this time the resin has turned into a fossil itself, called amber.

Researchers have found all kinds of ancient insects in amber, and have found frogs, flowers, lizards, even the bones of small mammals and animal hair. For scientists studying creatures that are mostly long gone, amber adds up to a real treasure trove.

Recently, scientists at Oregon State University have been studying a rare amber fossil that trapped a spider just as it was attacking a wasp that had just gotten stuck in the spider’s web. The spider was moving in for the kill when resin covered the web, freezing them both for all time. Talk about your sticky situations.


Fossil:  the remains or impression of something that was alive in prehistoric times, now preserved in rock

Resin: a thick substance that flows from some types of pine trees

Amber: fossilized resin

Mammal: warm-blooded animals with hair or fur that fed their young milk


PRESS RELEASE: Fossil of ancient spider attack only one of its type ever discovered

WEB: Fossil Information on

WEB: World of Amber: What is Amber?

WEB: Fossils for Kids

ARTICLE: New York Times: Mammal Bones Found in Amber for First Time

WEB: Resin & Tree Damage


© 2012 Oregon State University: “This is the only fossil ever discovered that shows a spider attacking prey in its web. Preserved in amber, it’s about 100 million years old.”