|Themes > Science > Paleontology / Paleozoology > Paleozoology > Fossil Invertebrates > Historical Development of Paleoentomology|
The first references to fossil insects were made by the natural historians of the last century (Fisher, 1863). These early records only served to alert readers to the occurrence of coleopterous fragments in peats. Those organic deposits, which we now know to be of Pleistocene or Holocene age, were variously attributed to deposits of the Noachian flood, or later, the Ice Age (Pengelly, 1870). It should be noted that Charles Darwin's mentor, Charles Lyell, in his classic text on the "Antiquity of Man" referred to "forest beds" of organic debris interspersed between the English East Anglian drift sequences (Godwin-Austen, 1851). These deposits contained plants, vertebrates and insects. Lyell (1863) states (p. 216): "The insects, so far as they are known, including several species of Donacea, are, like the plants and fresh-water shells, of living species."
A little over one century ago, the high cliff sections along the north shore of Lake Ontario, east of Toronto, attracted geologists interested in recording fossil remains from the detrital peats of the Scarborough Bluffs. G.J. Hinde (1878) discovered fossil beetle fragments in these deposits, initiating a series of studies which progressed for almost 50 years under Chamberlain, Coleman and Scudder.
Samuel H. Scudder described insect fragments from the Scarborough Formation sent to him by Coleman (Scudder, 1895, 1900). He obviously had problems with the identification of many of the beetle fragments. In a series of papers, he described the coleopterous fauna of the Scarborough deposits as consisting of seventy extinct, and two extant, species. Having worked in this research field for over two decades, it is very easy to empathize with Scudder's reactions to the poorly preserved materials that he was presented with. His frustration with identifications is reflected in the specific names given in his publications describing the Scarborough fauna.
Table 1 illustrates what we have inferred to be Scudder's gradually deteriorating trust of the designations given to the beetles. This was probably directly proportional to the state of preservation of the "identified" fragments. We have taken the liberty of regrouping this partial list of Scudder's identifications to reflect his presumed increasing frustration at matching the fossils with modern counterparts.
One can certainly empathize with Scudder in his problems of specific identification; many of the over 30,000 species of beetles in North America were undescribed at the time of his work and, from our own experience, the preservation of the Scarborough fossils is generally not good.
We recognize Scudder’s reluctance to name the specimens provided by Hinde, however, our own work has shown that not only are the majority of Scudder's specific determinations incorrect, but unfortunately a number of the generic determinations are completely inaccurate. Examples of these major mis-identifications are given in Figure 1. Possibly part of Scudder's problems in specific determinations may have been because of the scientific logic of the day which postulated intense speciation during the " Ice Ages". We now know that this does not appear to have been the case at least in the Arctic and cool temperate zones of both Europe, North America and portions of the Soviet Union.
The first studies which identified Pleistocene fossil insects as extant forms on a faunal basis were written in Europe during the first half of this century. Foremost among these were papers by Bell (1922), Henriksen (1933), Zeuner (1934), Thorkelsson (1935) and Lindroth (1942, 1948). Although the Scandinavian workers (principally Lindroth) retained an interest in the fossil insect studies, the next major research group to emerge was at the University of Birmingham, England, in the late 1950s and early 1960s. G.R. Coope, P.J. Osborne and F.W. Shotton commenced a series of publications establishing insect faunas as useful indices for a variety of Pleistocene and Holocene environmental conditions (Coope, 1959; Coope et al., 1961; Coope, 1970). Not only have they shown the potential for climatic and ecological re-construction using Pleistocene beetles, but Coope, his co-workers and students, have refined the climatic curves for the last interglacial-glacial cycle in Britain, with a remarkable degree of accuracy (Coope et al., 1971; Morgan, 1973; Coope, 1977).
In the late 1960s and early 1970s the first North American beetle papers appeared (Matthews, 1968; Coope, 1968a; Ashworth and Brophy, 1972; Morgan, 1972). A series of papers describing insect faunas recovered from the tar pits and other Tertiary and Quaternary deposits in California had been produced by W.D. Pierce during the 1940s and 1950s, but a large number of the identifications have been shown to be erroneous (Miller and Peck, 1979; Miller et al., 1981), and they have not been considered in this discussion.
During the period from 1970-1990, several hundred publications have appeared describing many sites of different ages from many areas of the world. Some of the more relevant North American references are cited below. Comprehensive listings are available from commercial or government reference computer databases.