Magazine article Science News

Finally, a Fly Fossil from Antarctica. (Winging South)

Magazine article Science News

Finally, a Fly Fossil from Antarctica. (Winging South)

Article excerpt

A tiny fossil collected about 500 kilometers from the South Pole indicates that Antarctica was once home to a type of fly that scientists long thought had never inhabited the now-icy, almost insectfree continent.

The diverse group of fly species called schizophorans includes houseflies, fruit flies, and flesh-burrowing blowflies. Previously, many researchers held that schizophorans evolved elsewhere and long after Antarctica had become geographically isolated from other major landmasses.

The fragmentary fossil isn't part of an adult fly but a portion of a puparium, the shell that hardens from a larva's skin and protects

the pupa as it develops into an adult insect. The puparium's tough material--which includes chitin, a natural polymer found in insect exoskeletons and crab shells--fostered its fossilization, says Allan C. Ashworth, a paleoentomologist at North Dakota State University in Fargo.

Several of the fossil's features, such as a single pair of round breathing holes called spiracles, mark the puparium as belonging to the schizophoran group. The puparium was probably 5 to 7.5 millimeters long, which would make the adult insect the size of today's housefly, says Ashworth. He and F. Christian Thompson, an entomologist at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C., describe their find in the May 8 Nature.

Ashworth excavated the relic from a 2-meter-thick outcrop of siltstone along Antarctica's Beardmore Glacier. Other fossils unearthed there include marine microorganisms, algae, mosses, wood, leaves, freshwater mollusks, fish, and a variety of insects. …

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