The world’s oldest gnat, dating back 247 million years, has been discovered in Mallorca, Spain.
The beautifully preserved larva fossil, just a few million years after the planet’s largest extinction, was found in cliff-face rock on the beach, according to the study in Papers in Palaeontology.
Scientists could even determine how it breathed as well as look at its digestive system and head.
Its importance lies in the window it gives into how species recovered from Earth’s largest mass extinction that wiped out 80 percent of species.
The gnat belongs to the group of insects called dipterans comprising true flies, mosquitoes, midges, and gnats.
The larva is related to modern window- or wood-gnats and even would have breathed like modern insects.
The oldest previous specimen was discovered in France but is a few million years younger than this one.
Mallorcan researcher Josep Juárez made a surprising find during a paleontological survey in the area near the small harbor of Estellencs at the northeast of Mallorca.
He discovered a complete insect larva that had left a slight imprint of organic remains on the two sides that were left exposed when the rock split in half.
The gnat, dating from the early Middle Triassic is older than the earliest dinosaurs and is the oldest dipteran ever found.
Dr. Enrique Peñalver, from the Spanish National Research Council (CSIC) at the Spanish Geological Survey (CN-IGME), and first author of the study said: “While I was inspecting it under the microscope, I put a drop of alcohol on it to increase the contrast of the structures, and I was able to witness in awe how the fossil had preserved both the external and internal structures of the head, some parts of the digestive system, and, most importantly, the external openings to its respiratory system, or spiracles.”
Another of the authors, Dr. Ricardo Pérez-de la Fuente, from Oxford University Museum of Natural History added:“We have been able to look at some of the adaptations by the first dipterans to the postapocalyptic environment at the beginning of the Triassic, for instance, a breathing system that is still found in different groups of insects today.”
They have named the new genus and species Protoanisolarva juarezi, or “Juárez’s ancestral anisopodoid larva,” honoring its discoverer.
Rafel Matamales-Andreu, palaeontologist and curator of the Balearic Museum of Natural Sciences (FJBS-MBCN) has devoted several years to unravel the environment of this region during the Triassic period, and the changes it underwent for millions of years.
He said of the larva which fed on organic matter from the soil: “If we were able to visit the region at the beginning of the Triassic, we would see large rivers and floodplains under a climate similar to that found in tropical Africa today, alternating dry and rainy seasons.”
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