Fossil preservation is a tricky mistress. And a particularly deceptive one when it comes to invertebrate fossils. As the paleontology technician at VMNH, I am responsible for digitizing the fossils insects in our collection (made possible by NSF through iDigBio). My primary digitizing focus for the past year has been to photograph the insects from Solite Quarry, of which I have photographed hundreds and counting (check them out at www.vmnhgeocat.org). During my time staring at my computer screen, going cross-eyed focusing the images for capture, and contemplating the ID of these insects, I sometimes wonder if my mind is playing tricks on me. One such day came in June when I thought I saw an eye of a fly preserved.
The idea of eye preservation at Solite was a bit of a shock to me considering all the rest of the insects I had photographed to that moment either didn’t have their heads preserved at all or there was an empty space where the eyes would have been. Solite Quarry insects have a history of having surprisingly good preservation, so why should the presence of eyes be a shock? Simply put….because we just don’t see them often! And, to date, eyes have not been found preserved in all the major groups in this collection.
However, one picture of one insect with possible eyes was not enough to convince my boss (Butch) that I wasn’t just imagining things. Fortunately, August was a great month for finding more specimens with their eyes preserved.
In addition to the fly, I also have a couple beetles with eyes. The best of the two is below. Note: This beetle also has a counterpart that has the majority of the body preserved. This half had the eyes (both!).
But the gem of them all is the following mystery insect: