updated manuscript to PETALURA vol. 2, 1996


Günter Bechly

Dragonflies and damselflies are one of the most spectacular, but also one of the rarest, insect inclusions in Tertiary amber. Up to now there are no odonates known from any Mesozoic amber. Because of this rarity dragonflies are not even mentioned in a recent book on insects in amber (KRZEMINSKA & KRZEMINSKI, 1992). This paper is a short review and preliminary revision of all currently known specimens, based on a revised and amended version of BECHLY (1993). LARSSON (1978) explained the presence of odonate larvae or exuviae in Baltic amber. The fact that nearly all amber preserved odonates are damselflies, can be explained by the conditions of fossilisation: Damselflies (Zygoptera) get easier trapped and enclosed in resin than dragonflies (Anisoptera). Thus it is evident that Anisoptera preserved in amber will always be extremely rare and consequently of course also very expensive fossils (see ORR, 1993).

The following damselfly-fossils from the Dominican amber are located in the paleontological "Museum am Löwentor des Staatlichen Museums für Naturkunde" in Stuttgart / Germany (SCHLEE, 1990 and pers. comm.1993):

Colour-photos of the last two mentioned specimens, probably Coenagrionidae, have been published in SCHLEE (1990: 83) (see fig. 1 and fig. 2). Unfortunately the magnificent amber collection of the Stuttgart museum is presently (fall 1996, probably till end of 1997) not open for scientific studies, because of the unexpected retirement of Dr. Schlee.

There are only three other records of odonate specimens from Dominican amber:

The Dominican amber originated in the Middle Eocene to Upper Oligocene (45-25 Mio. years b.p.), maybe even to the Lower and Middle Miocene (15-20 Mio. years b.p.). The Dominican "amber-tree" most probably has been a member of the Recent genus Hymenaea (H. protera Poinar), a neotropical leguminous that is known for its high production of resin (SCHLEE, 1986). Amber from the Dominican Republic is extraordinary for the following reasons:

Therefore it is certainly not over-optimistic to expect further odonates from Dominican amber in the future, but there are also some fossil odonates known from the Baltic amber of eastern Europe, which originated in the Upper Eocene (about 40-50 Mio. years b.p.) of Scandinavia, but is found in secondary deposits of glauconitic sands ("blue earth") of the Upper Eocene to Lower Oligocene (about 30-40 Mio. year b.p.) at the Baltic coast. Based on the monograph of CONWENTZ (1890) the Baltic "amber-tree" has long been assumed to be an extinct conifer, which has been named Pinus (or Pinites) succinifera Goepp., although this taxon is still undefined and could include five different species (SCHLEE, 1986), however since the studies of KATINAS (1971) it is regarded as more likely that the Baltic amber was produced by a ceder (close to the Recent species Cedrus atlanticus) and maybe also an araucaria of the genus Agathis (= kauri-pine).

HAGEN (1854) mentioned five odonates and HANDLIRSCH (1906-1980) mentioned six odonates from Baltic amber. Handlirsch's list was incomplete and contained several errors, which unfortunately have been frequently perpetuated, even recently by the author himself (BECHLY, 1993), although they had been corrected already by ANDER (1942). Unfortunately the Odonata chapter in the well known catalogue of amber fossils by KEILBACH (1982: 208-209) is likewise incomplete and incorrect, and furthermore even contains some additional errors too. The following new list will hopefully be rather complete and error-free:

All these fossils together make a total of at least 32 different specimens. The present location of 25 specimens is known to me, and except two, all others are preserved in Germany, which therefore can be considered as "El Dorado" for researches on amber dragonflies. Anyway my enumeration will probably still be somewhat incomplete, since it is quite likely that at least a few specimens have disappeared in private collections without having been noticed by scientists. A few small damselflies are rumoured to be present in local collections in the Dominican Republic. HAGEN (1856: 78) mentions the existence of a further imaginal damselfly (Coll. Saturgus / Königsberg) and an odonate larva (Kabinett physik.-oekonom. Gesellschaft zu Königsberg), both from Baltic amber of course. Nevertheless it can not be excluded that these two specimens might be identical with specimens already mentioned in this enumeration. The same refers to the specimen illustrated in WICHARD & WEITSCHAT (1996: 79, Taf. 3) and the specimen illustrated in GRIMALDI (1996; also available on a website of the American Museum of Natural History). The former specimen (see fig. 19) is a pair of damselfly wings (apparently Lestidae!) in Baltic amber, while the latter specimen is a nearly complete damselfly in Dominican amber (see fig. 20), which is in a private collection (POINAR, pers. comm. 1997). All the known specimens are in need of a thorough revision, because their taxonomic and phylogenetic status seems to be more or less unsettled. Such a revision is projected by the author.


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Last Update: 25th July, 2005

© Günter Bechly, Böblingen, 2005