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Unique images bring fossil insects back to life

29 Jul 2014

A ground breaking new book that brings together two of the major disciplines behind Jurassic Park is aiming to raise the profile of insect fossils through stunning photographs and unique illustrations.

Credit: Richard Bizley
Credit: Richard Bizley


Fossil Insects, by Dr David Penney and James E Jepson, details the incredible preservation and diversity of fossilised insects from around the world, setting the scene for what these remarkable fossils can tell us about the ancient and modern worlds, and even the future of our planet. Like the mosquito in Jurassic Park, many of the hundreds of thousands of specimens of ancient insect have been preserved in amber. 

Using pioneering scientific methods and state of the art technology Dr David Penney from The University of Manchester has drawn on his knowledge of both entomology and palaeontology to discover some astonishing things about these fossilized creatures during the course of his research.
He says: “Insects are the most diverse group of creatures on the planet today. Many of them were around even before the time of the dinosaurs. Bringing together entomology and palaeontology through the study of insect fossils has great potential for revolutionising what we know about both subjects.” 
The ancient insects have been brought to life in the book through illustrations that for the first time depict long vanished arthropods living among the flora and fauna during the age of the dinosaurs. In a unique collaboration the artist Richard Bizley has created seven reconstructions of each of the major periods from the Devonian through to the Tertiary.
To make the animals in his paintings look realistic, Richard created models using scientific drawings and pictures of fossils. He then photographed them to see how the light behaves. 
Richard says: “When reconstructing fossil insect species, special attention needs to be paid to important diagnostic features, such as the wing venation patterns and the relative lengths of appendage segments. The fact that many fossil insect species are known only from isolated wings posed additional problems. This is where the collaboration with experts became very useful and I worked closely with Dr Penney to produce an accurate reconstruction based on the comparative study of both fossil and living insects.” 
He continues: “Plants can be difficult, especially as we are unsure how some of them looked. It is rare to get a fossil of a whole plant, so I had to paint according to the best estimation of how they looked, using the evidence available. Fortunately, scientists have learnt enough to provide some good ideas and many living plants are closely related to those that have become extinct.”
Whilst Jurassic Park remains a fantasy for now Dr Penney says the book and the film did result in an increase in research on fossil insects. He’s now hoping that his book, Fossil Insects, will open up the research to even more people.
He says: “This is the first book to merge these two disciplines in an accessible way, using plain and simple language. It is a book for anyone with a passion for palaeontology and/or entomology.”

Notes for editors

A selection of images, including photographs of fossilized insects in amber and illustrations by Richard Bizley are available for media use. Please credit the illustrations to “Richard Bizley”.

Fossil Insects, An Introduction to Palaeoentomology by Dr David Penney and James E. Jepson is published on July 31st 2014 by Siri Scientific Press.
Interview and image requests should be made to The University of Manchester press office.
Morwenna Grills
Media Relations Officer
Faculty of Life Sciences
The University of Manchester
Tel:   0161 275 2111
Mob: 07920 087466
Notes on the authors and illustrator:
Dr David Penney:
David Penney is an Honorary Lecturer in the Faculty of Life Sciences at The University of Manchester, a Fellow of the Linnean Society of London and has a PhD and two decades of research experience on fossils preserved in amber. He is also a Fellow of the Royal Entomological Society
James E. Jepson:
James E. Jepson is a Humboldt Research Fellow at the Museum für Naturkunde in Berlin, Germany and has a PhD and one decade of research experience studying fossil insects in rock. He is also a Fellow of the Royal Entomological Society
Richard Bizley:
Richard Bizley is a general scientific artist, painting in the traditional way using acrylic paints. He paints in detail and with extra realism to highlight the subjects in sufficient clarity to enable viewers to understand clearly what they are seeing. Richard's paintings can be viewed at He runs a gallery in Lyme Regis, Dorset. Richard is a Fellow of the IAAA, the International Association of Astronomical Artists.