This handout image released by the American Museum of Natural History in New York shows a Psocoptera specimen that was found in the Cambay amber deposit of western India. Bees, termites, spiders, and flies entombed in a newly-excavated amber deposit are challenging the assumption that India was an isolated island-continent in the Early Eocene, or 52-50 million years ago. -AFP Photo

WASHINGTON: The discovery of a trove of insects preserved in amber raises new questions about whether India was always part of the Asian continent, researchers said in a study published Monday.

The insects, bees, termites, spiders, and flies, had been entombed in the vast Cambay deposit in western India for some 50 million years.

Scientists had long assumed that India was for a time an isolated island-continent, and consequently expected that the insects found in the amber would differ significantly from those elsewhere in Asia.

But researchers wrote in their study appearing in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that the insects were not unique as would be expected.

“We know India was isolated, but when and for precisely how long is unclear,” says David Grimaldi, curator in the Division of Invertebrate Zoology at the American Museum of Natural History.

“The biological evidence in the amber deposit shows that there was some biotic connection,” he wrote.

Rather than finding evolutionary ties to Africa and Madagascar, land masses geologists say India was most recently linked to, the researchers found relatives in Northern Europe, Asia, Australia, and the Americas.

“The amber shows, similar to an old photo, what life looked like in India just before the collision with the Asian continent,” says Jes Rust, professor of Invertebrate Paleontology at the Universitaet Bonn in Germany.

“The insects trapped in the fossil resin cast a new light on the history of the sub-continent,” said Michael Engel, a professor in the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology and curator of entomology at the University of Kansas.

“What we found indicates that India was not completely isolated, even though the Cambay deposit dates from a time that precedes the slamming of India into Asia,” he said. “There might have been some linkages.” -AFP

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