Page last updated at 11:17 GMT, Wednesday, 20 August 2008 12:17 UK

eBay insect fossil is new species

Aphid fossil (Richard Harrington)
The fossil was bought for just 20

A scientist who bought a fossilised insect on the web auction site eBay for 20 has discovered that it belongs to a previously unknown species of aphid.

Dr Richard Harrington, vice-president of the UK's Royal Entomological Society, bought the fossil from an individual in Lithuania.

He then sent it off to an aphid expert in Denmark, who confirmed the insect was a new species, now extinct.

The bug has been named Mindarus harringtoni after the scientist.

"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 told BBC News.

"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."

I had thought it would be rather nice to call it Mindarus ebayi
Dr Richard Harrington, Rothamsted
"

Dr Harrington sent the specimen to Professor Ole Heie, a fossil aphid expert in Denmark.

"He discovered that it was something that hadn't been described before," Dr Harrington explained.

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 had thought it would be rather nice to call it Mindarus ebayi," said Dr Harrington.

"Unfortunately, using flippant names to describe new species is rather frowned upon these days."

Instead, Professor Heie named the new species after Dr Harrington.

"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]," the researcher, based at Rothamsted Research in Hertfordshire, explained.

He said the insect would have fed on a tree called Pinus succinifera which is itself now long since extinct.




SEE ALSO
Amber holds arachnid's secrets
07 Apr 08 |  Science/Nature
Bee fossil, DNA generate a buzz
25 Oct 06 |  Science/Nature
Ancient web spins evolution story
22 Jun 06 |  Science/Nature
Oldest insect delights experts
11 Feb 04 |  Science/Nature

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