February 9, 2010 | David F. Coppedge

Incredible Preservation of Beetle Wings Found

Beetle wings with their original shimmering luster have been found preserved in fossilized peat in Japan.  The strata in which they were found have been labeled middle Pleistocene and dated at 600,000 years old.  Yet these same wings, when dried in the sun, lose their luster within hours.
    The authors of the paper in Geology attributed the preservation not to issues of time but factors of environment.1  The slight acidity of the interstitial water, the fine mud in the matrix, the lack of bioturbation, and a covering of pumice led the research team to conclude that “the local depositional environment played a role in the preservation of the fine structure and macromolecules of the fossils….”  The beetle wings look very similar to those of extant beetles.  “By comparing the elytra [shield wings] of fossil leaf beetles with those of Holocene relatives, we have demonstrated that the original cuticle structure and its structural colors and macromolecules can be preserved through geologic time.”
    That remarkable preservation included more than the multilayer structure of chitin that causes the shimmering colors of these beetles.  “Pyrolysis�gas chromatography�mass spectrometric analysis revealed that the fossil elytra have preserved some of their original macromolecules (chitin, protein, and amino acids), which are similar to those of a related Holocene species,” they said.  “The high-porosity matrix of the peat contains many fragments of diatoms, indicating the high productivity of the water column but a reducing bottom environment.  Slight acidity of the interstitial water also seems to contribute to the preservation of some original macromolecules of fossil insects through geologic time.”
    That phrase, geologic time, was used four times in the paper: (1) Slight acidity of the interstitial water also seems to contribute to the preservation of some original macromolecules of fossil insects through geologic time; (2) the luster has been preserved over geologic time; (3) These results show that the original internal fine structure of the epicuticle has been preserved through geologic time; and, (4) we have demonstrated that the original cuticle structure and its structural colors and macromolecules can be preserved through geologic time.


1.  Tanaka et al, “Original structural color preserved in an ancient leaf beetle,” Geology, v. 38 no. 2, pp. 127-130; doi: 10.1130/G25353.1.

The reader could hardly miss the one fixed parameter that could not be altered.  Of course: as usual, it was “geologic time.”  It doesn’t matter that these delicate structures and molecules had to be str-r-r-r-e-t-ched into hundreds of thousands of years.  Boy, they sure don’t look that old.  Couldn’t it be possible that these beetles died not that long ago, maybe just a few centuries or thousands of years ago?  No; that is forbidden.  It would mean something is wrong with geological dating methods.  Whoops; we just committed a thought crime: we asked questions about “geologic time.”
    To preserve geologic time, we were just forced to accept numerous improbable notions: the pH of this environment never changed, the sun never shone, the worms never came digging, and no earthquakes or tsunamis or volcanoes in a land on the Pacific Ring of Fire disturbed this delicate microenvironment for a hundred times the length of recorded human history.  Geologic time – that unobservable, imponderable, occult substance – plays such a central role in evolutionary beliefs, everything else in science and logic must adjust to it.  Since geologic time cannot be questioned, that makes it irrational.  It should be called, “Gee, illogic time.”

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