In August 2012, a group of researchers reported the discovery, near Cortina in Italy, of two new species of tiny gall mite in 230-million-year-old amber. They are the oldest fossils of an extremely specialised group called Eriophyoidea. Their body form has changed little, although most modern forms feed on flowering plants instead of conifer leaves, as one of them, Triasacarus fedelei explains (he’s the one in the top picture).
I am a little mite
Who wasn’t very bright –
I fed upon a conifer, you see.
I hung around too long
And its resin, thick and strong,
Enveloped me and stuck me to the tree.
Now in amber fossilised,
I bet you’re quite surprised
To see my microscopic little frame
With its legs (two pairs, of course)
And its fancy feathered claws.
And hey! I’ve got a fancy Latin name!
With the novel body plan
Of the Eriophyoidea clan,
My species is heroically tenacious;
Yet Triassic mites like me
When flowering plants arrived in the Cretaceous:
They found that they were led
To munch on these instead –
It meant they lived to feed another day!
But they still have feathered claws,
And their legs still come in fours:
Why change what isn’t broke, I always say.