Silly Season; April 1994; Scientific American Magazine; by Leutwyler; 2 Page(s)
The observation that things are not always what they seem may be particularly true in the realm of scientific inquiry. History, or at least its first draft in print, often needs to be corrected. Consider the case of Fannia scalaris. For 30 years, experts believed this species of fly had long gone unchanged. One specimen, preserved in amber from the Baltic region some 38 million years ago, gave F. scalaris its reputation. Entomologist Willi Hennig first examined the fossil in 1966. Astonishingly, he reported that the prehistoric housefly was identical in every way to common latrine flies of the 19th century. Such an evolutionary feat was widely celebrated and hardly questioned--until last fall, that is.
While poring over the collection of 12,500 fossil insects at the Natural History Museum in London, Andrew Ross, a scholar of ancient bugs, noticed something peculiar about the prized piece of amber. "A crack appeared around the fly," Ross says. "I realized something was very wrong." Indeed, the specimen showed the handiwork of an unknown, fly-by-night forger.