Unknown Insect Species Fossilized in Precious Opal Leaves Scientists Searching for Answers

Experts says the insect was likely trapped inside the gem millions of years ago.

Bug in Opal
Brian Berger

What to Know

  • Brian Berger, a Philadelphia-area gemologist, purchased a piece of opal with a fossilized insect trapped inside.
  • Scientists estimate that the insect may have become encased in the opal millions of years ago.
  • Berger plans to name the opal "Beverly" in honor of his grandmother.

What is millions of years old and is trapped inside of a rare gem?

Not sure? We aren't either.

But that's exactly the question a local gem dealer is trying to answer after discovering an unidentified insect fossilized in a rare piece of opal.

Local

Breaking news and the stories that matter to your neighborhood.

Flyers Make Amends for Family With Special Needs at Game

Mall Shopping Hits Peak Season in Tax-Free Delaware

Brian Berger, a Philadelphia-area gemologist, purchased the artifact after taking a trip to the Indonesian island of Java. Now, he is reaching out for help in identifying the mystery bug.

“I’ve gotten 100 emails from different entomologists,” Berger said. “I’m trying to figure out who the right people to do the job are.”

Berger told NBC10 he has been in communication with scientists from France, Germany, and Australia.

The discovery is an uncommon one for several reasons. Scientists estimate that the insect may have become encased in the opal millions of years ago.

In a blog post written by Berger, he analyzes the bug’s physical characteristics, describing it as having an open mouth and “fibrous structures extending from the appendages.” 

He also says it is likely that the critter became trapped by tree sap or resin, which then fossilized into amber. 

Because the insect appears to be fully intact, Berger believes that the amber subsequently opalized, preserving the bug. Opal is formed when water runs down through the earth, carrying silica from sandstone into the earth’s cracks. After the water evaporates, the opal remains.

This case has left many in the scientific community scratching their heads. Jon Gelhaus, curator of entomology at Drexel University, believes that there simply aren’t enough details to identify the specimen yet.

“It certainly looks insect-like. It’s an oddity,” he said after viewing a photo of the artifact.

Berger plans to name the opal "Beverly" in honor of his grandmother.

“[She] was a unique gem just like this one,” he told NBC10.

What is millions of years old and is trapped inside of a rare gem?

It’s okay. We don’t know either.

But that's exactly the question a local gem dealer is trying to answer after discovering an unidentified insect fossilized in a piece of opal.

Brian Berger, a Philadelphia-area gemologist, purchased the artifact after taking a trip to the Indonesian island of Java. Now, he is reaching out for help identifying the mystery bug.

“I’ve gotten 100 emails from different entomologists,” said Berger. “I’m trying to figure out who the right people to do the job are.” He says he has been in communication with scientists from France, Germany, and Australia.

The discovery is a rare one for several reasons. Scientists estimate that the insect may have gotten trapped in the opal millions of years ago. In a blog post written by Berger, he says it’s likely that the critter became trapped by tree sap or resin, which then fossilized into amber.

Because the insect appears to be fully intact, Berger believes that the amber subsequently opalized, preserving the bug. Opal is formed when water runs down through the earth, carrying silica from sandstone into the earth’s cracks. After the water evaporates, opal remains.

 

This case has left many in the scientific community scratching their heads. Jon Gelhaus, curator of entomology at Drexel University, believes that there simply aren’t enough details to identify the specimen yet. “It certainly looks insect-like. It’s an oddity,” he says after viewing a photo of the artifact.

In a blog post written by Berger, he analyzes the bug’s physicality, describing it as having an open mouth and “fibrous structures extending from the appendages.

Berger says plans to name the opal Beverly in honor of his grandmother. “[She] was a unique gem just like this one,” he told NBC10.

Contact Us