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article imageArcheologists uncover ancient mayfly with 'hitchhiker'

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By Leigh Goessl     Oct 19, 2012 in Science
Researchers have released a study that outlines insect travel behavior millions of years old that they believe probably still occurs but had never been documented.
Scientists believe they have found evidence, estimated to be millions of years old, of a mayfly carrying a minute insect on its wing.
A study coming from the University of Manchester says that archeologists have uncovered evidence of a springtail "hitchhiking" a ride from an adult mayfly. The evidence was found in the form of a fossilized piece of amber; scientists say the amber is 16 million years old. To date, phoresy in mayflies had never been recorded said the researchers.
According to a University of Manchester news release, Dr. David Penney and colleagues from the Faculty of Life Sciences and the School of Materials took over 3,000 high resolution CT scan images from various angles. They then "created slices", to show the fossil in cross sections. This was how researchers positively identified the small creature as a springtail.
“The images are really impressive," Dr. Penney said. "This pioneering approach to studying fossils has allowed us an insight into the behaviour of one of the world’s most prevalent organisms.”
While springtails are still common today and can be found in various regions across the globe, not much is known about their migrating habits and this research opens up possibilities not explored too deeply. Previously, only one other piece of evidence of springtail phoresy had been found. According to Science Codex, earlier research had suggested ocean currents or wind may have aided springtails' transport.
Screen capture from YouTube video that illustrates how an ancient springtail  hitched a ride  on a m...
Screen capture from YouTube video that illustrates how an ancient springtail "hitched a ride" on a mayfly. The springtail is on the right.
University of Manchester
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Mayflies have a short life span, and they do not fly for long. Scientists believe the mayfly died instantaneously when the resin ran over it and that the springtail's positioning indicates that the insect was there at the time, and that the two insects were not joined by the resin.
“This is a truly remarkable specimen. It highlights the potential for such fossils which provide snapshots of behaviors ‘frozen in time’ to provide clues to ecological associations occurring right under our noses today, but which may have gone unnoticed to date,” Penney said in a statement.
Earlier this month, Digital Journal reported on a finding of fossil of ancient spider attack captured in a piece of amber.
Full details of this study have been published in the Oct. 17 edition of the PLoS journal.
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