An area near Bengough, Sask. attracted paleontologists to a site in the Big Muddy Badlands where they recently uncovered 67 million-year-old amber deposits.

The research team from the Royal Saskatchewan Museum unearthed the first deposits in the province found to contain prehistoric insect specimens.

Ryan McKellar, curator of paleontology at the Royal Saskatchewan Museum, is delighted to have led a successful expedition alongside the museum's Curatorial Assistant, Elyssa Loewen.

"It fills in a bit of a gap that we have in the fossil record," said McKellar. "There's about a 16 or 17 million-year period where we don't have many amber deposits and unfortunately it straddles the extinction event so we don't really have a good idea of what happened to insects around the time of the extinction."

The findings were immensely significant, not only because they were the first in Sask. to include insects, but also because the amber is from about one million years before the extinction of dinosaurs.

"This basically allows us to get a glimpse of what's going on with insects right before the extinction event," McKellar added.

There are deposits around the Town of Eastend and in the National Community Pasture, or Crown Land, which also contain amber of the right age to have encapsulated preserved insects.

The Royal Saskatchewan Museum conducted a second study on amber about 77 million years old from North Carolina, showcasing some of the last Cretaceous ants.

Whereas the ants, wasps, and flies found in the amber from the Big Muddy Badlands were more reminiscent of modern groups of insects, although they were from 10 million years prior.

"It was a fairly good indicator that bigger things were happening," said McKellar. "Almost like the problems we're having with insects nowadays, where we're worried about how we depend on them, dinosaurs would've depended on them too." 

McKellar notes how flowering plants were first popping up during the Cretaceous period and by the end, around the extinction of dinosaurs, were overtaking cone-bearing plants.

"I think what we're actually seeing is the change from cone-bearing plants to plants that use flowers to reproduce," McKellar said.

The finds of the Royal Saskatchewan Museum were of such a calibre that they were even featured in the coveted scientific journal, Current Biology. 

The research team hopes to continue learning about the ecology of life before the extinction event and filling in the missing pieces of prehistory.