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Jewel of the Earth

Program Overview

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Insects in amber NOVA explores what plants and animals preserved in amber can reveal about the natural world of the past.

The program:

  • notes that some plants produce resin to seal a wound and explains how amber forms when resin hardens.

  • traces the importance of amber throughout history, including its importance during the Stone Age, the Bronze Age, and Imperial Roman times.

  • shows how biologists study inclusions, well-preserved plants and animals that have become trapped in amber.

  • states how scientists, by comparing amber animals to their modern-day counterparts, can determine what kind of forest they lived in.

  • notes how 20-million-year-old Dominican amber has revealed what fossil evidence has not—that ancient tropical forests contained a vast diversity of life.

  • recreates the lives and interrelationships of various organisms—such as the stingless bee, assassin bug, fig wasp, nematode worm, scale insect, and ant—based on evidence found in amber.

  • suggests how animals like tadpoles, which are not normally found near trees, may have gotten trapped in amber.

  • describes how seeds in amber can be analyzed to learn which mammals may have carried them on their bodies.

  • conveys that an absence of change among plants and animals found in amber and those found today suggests that tropical forests have remained largely unchanged for at least 20 million years.

  • shows how an amber-encased honey-pot ant provides evidence of Earth's rainfall patterns 20 million years ago and helps confirm that Australia and South America were joined together in one supercontinent.

  • recounts early reports that DNA had been successfully harvested from an organism in amber but notes that when the studies could not be replicated, many scientists concluded that the original DNA discovered was contaminated.

  • features scenes from the movie Jurassic Park and explains why it would be currently impossible to recreate an extinct species.

Taping Rights: Can be used up to one year after the program is taped off the air.

Teacher's Guide
Jewel of the Earth
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