A fossilized dragonfly wing discovered by paleontology enthusiast Beverly Burlingame while hiking in the Princeton, British Columbia area.
British Columbia researchers identified dragonfly fossils in the Princeton area of the Okanagan Valley, including one that is from a new species of insect that died out millions of years ago.
Paleontologist Bruce Archibald, from the Beaty Museum of Biodiversity at the University of British Columbia (UBC), and entomologist emeritus from the Royal British Columbia Museum, Robert Cannings, published the discovery in the scientific journal The Canadian Entomologiston June 21.
At the time when these fossils come from, the planet was beginning to look like the one we know today. The dinosaurs had died out about 15 million years earlier. These insect fossils add more pieces to the puzzle, says Bruce Archibald.
“We observe the creation of the world in its modern form, which is extremely exciting.
—Bruce Archibald, Paleontologist, Beaty Museum of Biodiversity, University of British Columbia
His team identified two species of dragonflies, one of which still exists today, and another that disappeared a long time ago. You wouldn't be at all surprised to see one of these in your backyard. But the other has disappeared, and would surprise an entomologist, he exclaims.
This second species belongs to a subgroup of insects, called cephalozygoptera, that a team of Bruce Archibald discovered last year.
It was two amateur collectors, Beverly Burlingame and Kathy Simpkins, who came across these fossils during hikes near Princeton, which are probably the discovery of the year, according to Bruce Archibald.
Kathy Simpkins (left), Fossil Collections Manager at the Princeton Museum, and collector Beverly Burlingame (right), discovered the new dragonfly fossils while hiking. Over the years, they have discovered several fossils of scientific importance in the Princeton area.
Kathy Simpkins is a volunteer Fossil Collections Manager at the Princeton Museum. I love walking in nature, and it's absolutely thrilling to be the first person to see the remains of a creature that lived millions of years ago, she says.
“It is fascinating that the wings, or the hairs on the legs of an insect, so tiny, frail and delicate, can be preserved by the earth, when it can be so violent at the same time.
— Kathy Simpkins, Head of Fossil Collections at Princeton Museum
In fact, it is often citizens passionate about paleontology who make important finds, explains Bruce Archibald. Of the hundred or so ancient species he helped discover over the course of his career, many of them now bear the names of collectors who unearthed them from across the province.
This is also the case for this new species of dragonfly, which will bear the name Allenbya holmesae, in honor of Beverly Burlingame's mother, Dorothy Holmes, who passed on her love of fossils to her daughter. The name Allenbya refers to the geographical formation of the region.
The picture of the interior of British Columbia that these finds help paint is one of contrasts, observes Burce Archibald.
Species associated with tropical areas, such as palm trees, rubbed shoulders with others, such as spruces, which are associated with cool areas, he explains. The climate of the time, influenced by a high rate of carbon in the atmosphere, allowed this mixture, since the temperatures were moderate, without great heat or frost.
It was also a time when modern species rubbed shoulders with now extinct species, he adds. However, the distribution of fossils reflects the position of the continents at the time. We could have crossed forests from British Columbia to Copenhagen, Denmark, or Vladivostok, Russia, without getting our feet wet, illustrates the researcher.
George Mercer Dawson, one of the pioneers of fossil research in British Columbia.
These are not the first finds in the Princeton area. In 1877, George Mercer Dawson of the Geological Survey of Canada discovered insect fossils on the banks of the Similkameen River.
Since there were no insect fossil experts in Canada at the time, they were sent to Harvard University, Massachusetts, and the Museum of natural history of Vienna, where they have been described in scientific publications. The area has had several other discoveries since, but never have dragonflies been found.
The discoveries are also far from over. Kathy Simpkins and Beverly Burlingame have already found several other important specimens that Bruce Archibald intends to document in the coming years.