CORVALLIS, Ore. About 100 million years ago, a tiny mayfly had a problem.
Like most adult mayflies, she only had that one day to live anyway, so there was no time to waste. She took her mating flight, got fertilized, and was about to lay her eggs when something went horribly wrong. She got stuck in some oozing tree sap and died, preserved for all time in the magic of amber. There would be ho hatchlings.
It was a pretty rude ending to what was already going to be a short adulthood. But her personal tragedy proved fortunate for scientists. The tiny specimen just described by an Oregon State University researcher as a new subfamily, genus and species of mayfly has helped to shed further light on the ecology of the distant past. And at least she didn't get eaten by a fish.
"Understanding the ecology and history of mayflies is important, in part because they are one of the most important fish foods in the world," said George Poinar, Jr., a professor of entomology at OSU and one of the world's leading experts in the use of amber to study ancient life forms.
"This is the first time we ever documented such long antennae and an ovipositor in this order of insects," Poinar said. "This species is now extinct. It probably had to lay its eggs on a certain type of substrate or habitat that disappeared, and the species disappeared with it. It's not good to be too specialized."
An ovipositor, Poinar said, is an egg-laying mechanism many insects use to place their eggs in a specific location, like inside plant tissue. No mayflies have ovipositors today.
Around the world, this group of insects is hugely important in stream biology. They furnish food for most stream predators, including fish.
They are also followed closely by fishermen, who create lures to resemble the latest mayfly hatch in streams and lakes. Many regions have charts to outline the expected hatch dates of particular mayfly species, which often fi
|Contact: George Poinar, Jr.|
Oregon State University