Fossil Flies

Saturday, August 01, 1998
Fossil flowers and pollen suggest that flowering plants first evolved some 135 million years ago. But the fossil flies shown here, unearthed from 145-million-year-old sediments in Liaoning Province in China, indicate that flowering plants, or angiosperms, may have appeared much earlier. The half-inch-long flies, discovered by paleoentomologist Dong Ren of the National Geological Museum of China in Beijing, belong to the same insect family as modern deerflies and tangleveined flies, some of which use their long mouthparts, or proboscises, to suck nectar from tubular flowers. Like their living relatives, the fossil flies sport prominent proboscises, which may have enabled them to imbibe nectar from early flowers. Alternatively, since no fossil flowers have been found in the fine-grained sediments, the flies may have fed on the sugary fluids secreted by some nonflowering plants. Of the two hypotheses, Ren favors the first. "These long mouthparts indicate that they were only adapted to feed from long, tubular floral types," he says. "This discovery tells us that angiosperms were already in existence during the Middle Jurassic, and the distribution of the fossils demonstrates that East Asia, and especially northeastern China, is one of the original places of the angiosperms."
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