October 18th, 2012 by James Ayre
An amber fossil of a mayfly with a wingless arthropod called a springtail hitchhiking on its wings has just been discovered. This 16-million-year-old amber fossil shows a behavior that has almost never been seen, in living or extinct springtails.
This is the first research to show that springtails travelled on the wings of flying insects like mayflies, and is only the second time this behavior has been observed by researchers.
Springtails are very common throughout the world, nearly any handful of soil you pick up is going to contain large numbers of them. Researchers have found evidence to suggest that they may expand their territory by using ocean currents or by traveling directly on the wind, but modern springtails have never been observed using another insect as a form of transportation. There has only ever been one other fossil discovered to suggest that they used this behavior (on a harvestman).
In addition, mayflies themselves have never been observed transporting other insects. They only fly for a few hours or a few days in their entire lives, making this find stand out even more.
The researchers say that this is the first and only scientific observation of such a behavior occurring between a hitchhiking organism and an adult mayfly. And also the first time that springtails have been observed getting rides on any flying insects. A truly unique find.
Primary author of the study, David Penney of the University of Manchester, says, “This is a truly remarkable specimen. It highlights the potential for such fossils which provide snapshots of behaviours ‘frozen in time’ to provide clues to ecological associations occurring right under our noses today, but which may have gone unnoticed to date.”
The new research was just published October 17th in the open access journal PLOS ONE.
Source: University of Manchester
Image Credits: Dr Dave Penney, The University of Manchester
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