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As Grimaldi expresses it: Imagine giving an entomologist a bigger bug net and allowing them to swing it more times. "It's the vertebrates that are absolutely, truly astonishing," says Andrew Ross, head of paleobiology for National Museums Scotland in Edinburgh.In 2018, scientists reported 321 new species immaculately preserved in Burmese amber, bringing the cumulative total to 1195.Much as 19th century naturalists collected species from teeming rainforests in far-flung locales, these scientists are building a detailed chronicle of life in a tropical forest 100 million years ago, all from amber mined across the border in Myanmar."Right now we're in this frenzy, almost an orgy" of discovery, says paleontologist David Grimaldi, curator of the amber collection at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City.For scientists, this is more than a place to buy pendants or bracelets.
In Kachin, rival political factions compete for the profit yielded by amber and other natural resources.Taken together, the finds benchmark the birth of lineages and ecological relationships that still undergird modern ecosystems.Most of that scientific bounty passes through the bustling market here in Tengchong. In 2014, Xing sneaked into Myanmar, hoping to see the source of the specimens that had captivated him.It also rarely traps strong, active creatures, such as dragonflies, or any vertebrates beyond a few lizards.Burmese amber, in contrast, has revealed a phantasmagoria of creatures, thanks to the vast quantities coming out of the ground and the fact that single pieces regularly approach the size of cantaloupes.
Hundreds of scientific papers have emerged from the amber finds, and Chinese scientists hint that many specimens have yet to be published, including birds, insect species by the thousands, and even aquatic animals such as crabs or salamanders.