David A. Grimaldi

Curator for amber, Diptera, Lepidoptera, and minor holometabolous orders

Professor, Richard Gilder Graduate School

Curator David Grimaldi


  • Cornell University, Ph.D., 1986
  • State University of New York, Binghamton, M.Sc., 1983
  • University of Connecticut, B.Sc., 1979

Research Interests

Why do some groups of organisms wildly radiate, while others hardly diverge for many millions of years? In the 3.5-billion-year history of life on earth, no group has explosively radiated like the insects. Beginning about 450 million years ago the original insect evolved from a crustacean ancestor, resulting in our modern riot of approximately 5 million species. Addressing questions about radiations, stasis and extinctions requires, first, knowing the diversity of species (living and extinct), then their relationships. Since an estimated 100 million insect species have ever lived, it becomes a ceaseless source of discovery. I focus on morphology because insects are so intricate, and morphology also is required to interpret fossils, although my students study DNA sequences as well. I also focus on amber, because the exquisite, life-like preservation allows unmatched accuracy in assessing evolutionary change over millions of years. Besides conventional optics I use micro- and nano-CT scanning and synchrotron microtomography. Excavations of amber have been conducted in India and throughout the Americas from the arctic to the tropics; insects have been collected from throughout the New and Old World tropics.

I am particularly fascinated by Diptera, the true flies, the most ecologically diverse order of insects. The Schizophora flies (the "acalytrates" and calyptrates, from fruit flies to tsetse and house flies) may be the largest radiation of eukaryotes in the past 66 million years of the Cenozoic. Drosophilidae is a focal topic not just because of Drosophila, but also as one of the most diverse families of Diptera, a real model for studying Cenozoic spread and diversification. I spend serious time doing species-level revisions of drosophilids. Other interests include the evolution of sociality in insects (especially ants and termites), pollination, biogeography and the effects of climate change; and the origins of modern ecosystems, such as tropical forests. New areas of research include the insect respiratory system and how it relates to flight. Science writing, illustration and imaging, and the history of science are among my broader interests.

Please contact Dr. Grimaldi if you are interested in studying the collections of amber, Diptera, fossil insects, Lepidoptera, or minor holometabolous orders (Mecoptera, Neuroptera, Siphonaptera, Strepsiptera, Trichoptera).


Division of Invertebrate Zoology

Richard Gilder Graduate School

Graduate School Columbia University EEEB

Cornell University Entomology

City University of New York Graduate Program in EEB

Fossil Insect Collaborative-Digitization Project


Grimaldi, D.A. 2018. Basal Cyclorrhapha in amber from the Cretaceous and Tertiary (Diptera: Brachycera), and their relationships. Brachycera in Cretaceous Amber Part IX. Bulletin of the American Museum of Natural History 423: 97 pp.

Grimaldi, D.A. 2018. Hirtodrosophila of North America (Diptera: Drosophilidae). Bulletin of the American Museum of Natural History 421: 1-75.

Grimaldi, D.A., D. Sunderlin, G. A. Aaroe, M.R. Dempsky, N.E. Parker, G.Q. Tillery, P. Barden, J.G. White, P.C. Nascimbene, and C.J. Williams. 2018. Biological inclusions in amber from the Paleogene Chickaloon Formation, Alaska. American Museum Novitates 3908: 1-37.

Grimaldi, D.A., and A. Ross. 2017. Extraordinary Lagerstätten in amber, with particular reference to the Cretaceous of Burma. pp. 287-342, In: Fraser, N.C, and H.- D. Sues (eds.), Terrestrial Conservation Lagerstätten, Windows into the Evolution of Life on Land. Edinburgh: Dunedin Press.

Criscione, J. and D. Grimaldi. 2017. The oldest predaceous water bugs (Insecta: Heteroptera: Belostomatidae), with implications for the paleolimnology of the Triassic Cow Branch Formation. Journal of Paleontology 91(6): 1166-1177, doi:10.1017/jpa.2017.48

Engel, M.S., P. Barden, M.L. Riccio, and D. Grimaldi. 2016. Morphologically specialized castes of termites (Isoptera) and advanced sociality in the Early Cretaceous. Current Biology 26: 1-9, + 27 pp. supplementary online data. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.cub.2015.12.061.

Barden, P., and D. Grimaldi. 2016. Adaptive radiation in socially advanced stem- group ants from the Cretaceous. Current Biology 26: 1-7, + 28 pp. supplementary online data. [Cover article and companion to article below].

Vea, I., and D. Grimaldi. 2016. Putting scales into evolutionary time: the divergence of major scale insect lineages (Insecta: Hemiptera: Coccoidea) predates the radiation of modern angiosperm hosts. Scientific Reports 6: 23487, pp. 1-11, + 22 pp. Supplementary online data. DOI:10.1038/srep23487.

Peñalver, E., A. Arillo, R. Pérez-de la Fuente, M.L. Riccio, X. Delclòs, E. Barrón, and D.A. Grimaldi. 2015. Long-proboscid flies as pollinators of Mesozoic gymnosperms. Current Biology 25(14): 1917–1923.

Krishna, K., D. Grimaldi, V. Krishna, and M.S. Engel. 2013. Treatise on the Isoptera of the world. Bulletin of the American Museum of Natural History 377: 1–2704, volumes 1-7.

Shi, G., D.A. Grimaldi, G.E. Harlow, J. Wang, J. Wang, M. Yang, W. Lei, Q. Li, and X. Li. 2012. Age constraint on Burmese amber based on U-Pb dating of zircons. Cretaceous Research 37: 155–163.

Schmidt, A.R., S.R. Jancke, E. Ragazzi, G. Roghi, E.E. Lindquist, P.C. Nascimbene, K. Schmidt, T. Wappler, and D.A. Grimaldi. 2012. Arthropods in amber from the Triassic Period. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, U.S.A. 109(37): 14796–14801.

Rust, J., H. Singh, R.S. Rana, T. McCann, L. Singh, K. Anderson, N. Sarkar, P.C. Nascimbene, F. Gerdes, J.C. Thomas, M. Solórzano-Kraemer, C.J. Williams, M.S. Engel, A. Sahni, and D. Grimaldi. 2010. Biogeographic and evolutionary implications of a diverse paleobiota in amber from the Early Eocene of India. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, U.S.A. 107(43): 18360–18365.

Grimaldi, D. 2010. 400 million years on six legs: on the origins and early evolution of the Hexapoda. Arthropod Structure and Development 39(2–3): 191–203.

Grimaldi, D., and M.S. Engel. 2005. Evolution of the Insects. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, xv+755 pp.

Teaching Experience

Faculty Appointments

  • Adjunct Professor, CUNY (Graduate Program in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology), 1988–present
  • Adjunct Professor, Cornell University (Department of Entomology), 1994–present
  • Adjunct Professor, Columbia University (Department of Ecology, Evolution, and Environmental Biology), 1995–present
  • Professor, Richard Gilder Graduate School, AMNH, 2009–present

Courses Taught

  • Insect Diversity, Columbia University
  • Fly School, an intensive field course on Diptera (instructor: 2017, 2019)

Graduate Advisees

  • Phillip Barden, RGGS (now at New Jersey Institute of Technology)
  • Isabelle Vea, RGGS (now at University of Edinburgh)
  • Lance Jones, CUNY (concurrent)

Graduate Committees

  • Torsten Dikow, Cornell University (now at Smithsonian Institution)
  • Ansel Payne, RGGS (now at Birmingham Audubon)
  • Carly Tribull (RGGS)
  • Stephanie Loria, RGGS (at AMNH)