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New Species Found In Fossil Purchased On eBay

August 21, 2008

When Dr. Richard Harrington purchased a fossilized insect on the Web auction site eBay for £20, he was surprised to find that it contained the remains of a previously unknown species of aphid.

After vice-president of the UK’s Royal Entomological Society purchased the fossil from a seller in Lithuania he sent it to an aphid expert in Denmark.

The expert, Professor Ole Heie, confirmed that the insect was in fact a new species, named Mindarus harringtoni after the scientist.

“He discovered that it was something that hadn’t been described before,” Dr Harrington explained.

“I had thought it would be rather nice to call it Mindarus ebayi.”

“Unfortunately using flippant names to describe new species is rather frowned upon these days.”

The insect itself is 3-4mm long and is encased in a 40-50 million-year-old piece of amber about the size of a small pill.

“I was interested to see what it was because I’ve worked with a team of people involved in monitoring and forecasting aphids, those of greenfly and their relatives in this country,” Dr Harrington said.

“I looked at it with my team and we thought we could identify it down to the level of genus, but we had no idea what the species was.”

“It’s not uncommon to find insects in amber… but I’m not sure that one has turned up on eBay that has been undiscovered before. It’s a rather unusual route to come by [a new species],” said Professor Ole Heie, based at Rothamsted Research in Hertfordshire.

Image Caption: Fossil aphid in amber. Courtesy Rothamsted Research

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