A stunning digital reconstruction gives a remarkable look at a new species of millipede which scuttled under the feet of dinosaurs.
It has been recovered from 99-million-year old Burmese amber and the 3D model has been used to study the anatomy of the 0.3 inches (8.2 mm) creature.
Comparing the model with living millipedes, experts found that the well-preserved specimen is the first ever known fossil of the millipede order Callipodida.
In fact, the fossil is so different to living millipedes that the researchers were forced to create an entirely new suborder to define it.
Researchers created a detailed three-dimensional model of the animal in order to study its fine details, which had been superbly preserved in the amber (pictured)
Pavel Stoev of Bulgaria’s National Museum of Natural History teamed up with colleagues Thomas Wesener and Leif Moritz, both of the Zoological Research Museum Alexander Koenig in Germany, to analyse the beautifully preserved fossil.
The millipede, found preserved in 99-million-year-old amber from the Noije Bum mine in north Myanmar’s Hukawng Valley, is a tiny 0.3 inches (8.2 millimetres) in length — smaller than all its relatives that live today.
Because amber preserves animals exceptionally well, the specimen contains details that would not normally be present in a fossil sample.
To analyse the millipede, researchers used a three-dimensional imaging technique called X-ray microscopy to take a series of image slices through the fossil specimen.
They then assembled the data from these images into a three-dimensional model of the whole creature, enabling them to study it in fine detail.
This enabled them to confirm, through comparison with other known millipede species, that their fossil was the earliest-known member of a millipede order called Callipodida, and the first fossil from this order to ever be found.
An order is a mid-level category in the taxonomic classification in life, larger in turn than suborders, families, genera and individual species.
Moreover, the newly-discovered millipede species is so different to the other members of the Callipodida that a new suborder, the Burmanopetalidea, had to be created to classify it.
WHAT IS AMBER?
Amber has been used in jewelry for thousands of years, and is often found to hold remarkably well-preserved materials from eras long since passed.
The golden-coloured translucent substance is formed when resin from extinct coniferous trees became hardened and then fossilised.
Often insects, plant material, pollen and other creatures became trapped in the resin, causing them to be entombed within after it solidified.
This is a somewhat rare event, as only a few new millipede suborders have been created in the past five decades.
‘We were so lucky to find this specimen so well preserved in amber!’ said Professor Stoev.
‘It came as a great surprise to us that this animal cannot be placed in the current millipede classification,’ said Professor Stoev.
The finding of this new species within the Callipodida, suggests that this millipede order must have evolved at least around 100 million years ago.
‘Even though their general appearance have remained unchanged in the last 100 million years, as our planet underwent dramatic changes several times in this period, some morphological traits in Callipodida lineage have evolved significantly.’
‘We had the opportunity to examine over 400 amber stones that contain millipedes,’ added paper co-author and zoological curator Thomas Wesener.
The specimen was loaned to the researchers from the private collection of Patrick Müller of Käshofen, western Germany, which is the third largest assembled set of animal-bearing Burmese amber in the world.
The millipede, found preserved in 99-million-year-old amber from the Noije Bum mine in north Myanmar’s Hukawng Valley, is a tiny 0.3 inches (8.2 millimetres) in length — smaller than all its relatives that live today
The millipede was originally found preserved in 99-million-year-old amber from the Noije Bum mine in north Myanmar’s Hukawng Valley (pictured)
‘Many of [the amber samples] are now deposited at the Museum Koenig in Bonn, so that scientists from all over the world can study them,’ added Dr Wesener.
Looking at the amber, the researchers were startled to find that the individual millipede that they studied was far from being the only one that was trapped and preserved in that particular deposit.
Instead, the creature was found alongside 529 other millipedes, despite being the only one from its order.
It was this surprise that in part prompted the team to christen the millipede Burmanopetalum inexpectatum.
In Latin, the species name ‘inexpectatum‘ means ‘unexpected’.
Meanwhile, the genus name, ‘Burmanopetalum‘, is a reference to the country in which it was discovered — Myanmar, which was previously called Burma.
‘The entire Mesozoic Era — a span of 185 million years — has until now only been sampled for a dozen species of millipedes,’ said Greg Edgecombe, a fossil arthropod expert at the Natural History Museum, London, who was not involved in the study.
He adds: ‘But new findings from Burmese amber are rapidly changing the picture.’
‘In the past few years, nearly all of the 16 living orders of millipedes have been identified in this 99-million-year-old amber.’
The full findings of the study were published in the journal ZooKeys.
WHAT FOSSILS HAVE BEEN FOUND IN BURMESE AMBER?
Amber, often used in jewellery, is fossilised tree resin, and the oldest dates back more than 300 million years.
In the past few years the Hukawng Valley in northern Myanmar, formerly Burma, has yielded numerous finds.
In January 2017, researchers discovered a 100-million-year-old insect preserved in amber which bore a passing resemblance to ET.
Its features were so odd and unique that researchers placed in into a new scientific order of insects.
The creature had a triangular head and bulging eyes, which is different from any other known species of insect.
The eyes on the side of its head would have given it the ability to see at almost 180 degrees by simply turning its head to the side.
Because of its uniqueness, the insect was assigned its own brand new scientific classification order – called Aethiocarenodea.
In June 2017, researchers revealed a stunning hatchling trapped in amber, which they believe was just a few days old when it fell into a pool of sap oozing from a conifer tree in Myanmar.
The incredible find showed the head, neck, wing, tail and feet of a now extinct bird which lived at the time of the dinosaurs, 100 million years ago, in unprecedented detail.
Researchers nicknamed the young enantiornithine ‘Belone’, after a Burmese name for the amber-hued Oriental skylark.
The hatchling belonged to a group of birds known as the ‘opposite birds’ that lived alongside the ancestors of modern bird.
Archaeologists say they were actually more diverse and successful – until they died out with the dinosaurs 66 million years ago.
They had major differences from today’s birds, and their shoulders and feet had grown quite differently to those of modern birds.
In December 2017, experts discovered incredible ancient fossils of a tick grasping a dinosaur feather and another – dubbed ‘Dracula’s terrible tick’ – swollen after gorging on blood.
The first evidence that dinosaurs had bloodsucking parasites living on them was found preserved in 99 million-year-old Burmese amber.
The newly-discovered tick dates from the Cretaceous period of 145 to 66 million years ago.