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Seeing B.C. forests 53 million years ago through insects

Researchers find 53-million-year-old fossils of wood wasps that offer a glimpse into the early days of modern British Columbia forests.

The fossil of a 53-million-year-old wood wasp, called the Ypresiosirex orthosemos, found by B.C. researcher Bruce Archibald in the Southern Interior’s McAbee fossil beds.

Contributed/Royal B.C. Museum

The fossil of a 53-million-year-old wood wasp, called the Ypresiosirex orthosemos, found by B.C. researcher Bruce Archibald in the Southern Interior’s McAbee fossil beds.

Royal B.C. Museum researcher Bruce Archibald vividly remembers the moment he unearthed a perfectly preserved 53 million year old fossil of a wasp in the Southern Interior’s McAbee fossil beds.

Not necessarily because the ancient seven-centimeter-long insect would prove invaluable to his research, though.

“I jumped up right away and split my pants,” he laughed.

Wardrobe malfunctions aside, the dig formed the foundation of Archibald’s latest article on newly discovered insect species, written with renowned researcher Alexandr Rasnitsyn of the Russian Academy of Sciences, in The Canadian Entomologist this week, which offer a unique look at B.C. forests shortly after the extinction of the dinosaurs.

What struck Archibald was the wood wasp’s similarity to its modern day pests.

“The important part is that it’s quite like modern ones,” Archibald told Metro. “They’re remarkable comparable.”

Archibald said the wasp would bore into the same trees they do today.

Fir, pine and cedar would be familiar to British Columbians, as would the ancient Interior climate, which Archibald said was similar to that of modern-day Vancouver.

But milder winters meant that certain warm-weather species of animals and vegetation, such as palm trees, would also make up B.C. forests during that time.

Like a detective searching for fingerprints at a crime scene, Archibald said the insect fossils help scientists piece together the larger story of what the region, near Cache Creek, looked like 53 million years ago.

“What we’re seeing is an early version of our modern world,” said Archibald, also a research associate with Simon Fraser University and Harvard.

The fossils are currently with the Royal B.C. Museum.

Archibald says the McAbee fossil beds, a designated provincial heritage site, contains world-class specimens for researchers and hopes government’s plan for the sites include more opportunities for the public to explore and interpret the findings discovered there.

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