One hundred million years ago, dinosaurs ruled the earth ... or did they? In reality, there were millions of tiny animals undaunted by those powerful reptilian behemoths and un-fazed by their reign of terror, that actually sought them as prey. Hordes of belligerent biting insects assaulted the majestic Tyran-nosaurus rex much the same way that they pester humans now. During the Cretaceous period, insect populations, unchecked by insecticides as they are today, thrived and undoubtedly accounted for the majority of animal diversity and biomass on the earth. With nearly a million species of insects described and possibly three times as many still unidentified,1 ours is clearly an insect world. Imagine what it was like 100 million years ago when insect diversity was even greater, and consider that maybe, just maybe, it was the insects that ruled the world. And if you are not convinced of the ultimate superiority of the insects over dinosaurs, just consider this: insects were around before, during, and after the reign of the non-avian dinosaurs.
We would like to take you on a journey through time to examine the world of the dinosaurs and discover what bugged them. By using insect fossils from the Cretaceous period, we'll visualize the likely relationships that occurred between insects and dinosaurs, and try to predict how they could have impacted dinosaur populations. Our interpretations of the habits of the fossil insects will be based on the behavior and ecology of their present-day descendants.2 Crucial to this endeavor are several important amber deposits that provide glimpses of insects that shaped the environment at three important periods: Early Cretaceous Lebanese deposits dating from 130-135 million years ago (mya), mid-Cretaceous Burmese deposits of some 99-105 mya, and Late Cretaceous Canadian deposits of 77-79 mya. Other
Mesozoic fossils will also contribute to our view of that vanished world. Finally, we will examine the hypothesis that insects vectoring disease-causing agents could have contributed to the decimation of already threatened dinosaur populations and led to at least local and even global extinction.
Studies of the past are frequently infused with controversy. This book is not about debating unresolved issues, taking sides, or creating new ones. For our study of the role of insects in the Cretaceous, it doesn't matter whether dinosaurs were cold- or warm-blooded or in between or all of the above. It's not significant if some dinosaurs were the ancestors of birds. It wouldn't really matter if some of the fossils were incorrectly identified or if the present theories on extinctions at the end of the Cretaceous are being challenged. This is a story about visualizing an ancient web of life. The T. rex and sauropod plucked from the past and plastered across the big screen were not isolated entities. They were part of a complex that was inextricably interwoven with all the other faunas and floras in their habitat, and in a very real sense with the entire planet. To illustrate this, some chapters begin with a scene depicting how we envision life in the Cretaceous. These are printed in a different font.
Our idea is to paint in some of the basic structure of that past web. Others will contribute fine interconnecting pieces; some of what we say will be deemed erroneous and discarded, and some will fit and remain. The canvas is essentially just being roughed in for future generations to work on, but it is unlikely that the picture will ever be completed. The world today is like an ever-changing, pulsating mega-organism, the complexity of which is just beginning to be understood even as man destroys it. The ecology of the Cretaceous world would have been certainly even more complex than that of today, with more floral and faunal diversity. Many of those plants and animals didn't survive to the end of the Cretaceous. The basis for their extinction will ultimately be found in a massive disturbance of global ecology—a tear in the web of life.
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