Straddling the Virginia–North Carolina state-line, the Virginia Solite Quarry ranks as one of the most important Triassic (250 - 200 million years ago) sites anywhere in the world. This is the time of the first dinosaurs, but also the first mammals, crocodiles and turtles. The significance of the Solite Quarry was first recognized by Paul Olsen in the mid-1970s when he discovered a range of vertebrate fossils together with a remarkable diversity of insects.
Since then, led by Nick Fraser of National Museums Scotland, work at the quarry has continued by a team of international scientists including Paul Olsen (Columbia University), David Grimaldi (American Museum of Natural History), Vladimir Blagoderov (Natural History Museum) and Brian Axsmith (University of South Alabama). Most recently, National Museums Scotland palaeoentomologist Andy Ross, has joined the team to look at the insects.
As well as yielding some strange little long-necked aquatic reptiles called Tanytrachelos and a small gliding reptile named Mecistotrachelos, our excavations have produced a remarkable assemblage of small insects and plant remains.
The detail preserved is exceptional. Some of the reptiles have skin and muscle preserved and the insects are almost comparable with insects in amber – but not quite! Tiny thrips just over 1.0mm long preserve details of the wings, and antennae complete with the minute hair-like microtrichiae. Today thrips are a major pest of fruit blossoms and roses. Back in the Triassic there were no flowering plants so they must have fed on other vegetation. Of eight families of true flies represented, four are living today.
Another common fossil at the quarry is a belostomatid water bug. Today these large predators can take prey as large as a small fish, and their Triassic predecessors also had very impressive grasping appendages. There is thus something of a modern flavor about what is a very ancient fauna. It even preserves the oldest record of a blood-sucking fly – a species that is very distantly related to mosquitoes.
The Solite Quarry is giving us a clear picture of life along the shores of an ancient lake around which some of the earliest dinosaurs roamed.