Sorting out Tiny Fossil Flies

By | May 20th, 2019|Dinosaur Fans, Main Page, Palaeontological articles, Photos/Pictures of Fossils|0 Comments

Phylogeny of Fungi-loving Flies Being Sorted

The fossils of dinosaurs and other huge vertebrates might grab the headlines but there is an enormous volume of research dedicated to examining the fossil record of some of the less high profile, but arguably more significant prehistoric creatures.  Take for example, the recent paper put together by researchers from the National Museums of Scotland and the Smithsonian Institution that helped resolve part of the family tree of the Diptera, essentially this is the Order of flies, part of a group of winged insects that could lay claim to being amongst the most successful animals to have ever existed.

The research focused on the fossils associated with one family of flies, the Bolitophilidae.  They are tiny and common in temperate forests across the Northern hemisphere and their larvae feed almost exclusively on mushrooms.  These little flies may not be very big, but the play a huge role in ensuring a balanced, healthy ecosystem.

A New Species of Eocene Fly Has Been Identified from Baltic Amber (Bolitophila rohdendorfi)

Eocene gnat fly preserved in Baltic amber (Bolitophila rohdendorfi)

Bolitophila rohdendorfi – new species of gnat fly identified from Baltic amber.

Picture Credit: National Museums of Scotland

The earliest fossil material associated with bolitophilids comes from Baltic amber and from contemporaneous amber found in Montana (Kishenehn Formation).  The fossilised tree resin has preserved the remains of individuals that had become trapped in sticky tree resin.  These fossils date from approximately 46 million years ago (Lutetian stage of the Eocene Epoch).  The fossilised flies look remarkably like their extant relatives, they look like small crane flies but they are, in truth a form of gnat.  The remarkable specimens entombed in the amber have allowed the scientists to make detailed observations helping to clarify the taxonomy and evolutionary history of this fly family.

Two New Species of Bolitophilid Fly Erected

These well-preserved fossils have allowed the scientists to erect two new species within the Bolitophilidae family.  The specimens from Montana have been named Bolitophila warreni and the Baltic amber fossils represent Bolitophila rohdendorfi.  Perhaps more significantly, these Eocene gnats have permitted scientists to revise the phylogeny of other ancient flies.  Fossils from the Lower Cretaceous of Mongolia and Transbaikalia had been placed in the Bolitophilidae family (subfamily Mangasinae) but their taxonomic position was controversial.  Thanks to this new research, the affinity of the Mangasinae within the Bolitophilidae has been confirmed.  In addition, a review of the fossil material has enabled a further two species of the fly genus Mangas to be erected, namely Mangas kovalevi and Mangas brevisubcosta both of which originate from the Lower Cretaceous of Khasurty in Western Transbaikalia.

Beautifully Preserved Lower Cretaceous Fly (Mangas kovalevi)

Mangas kovalevi fossils.

Mangas kovalevi, new species of gnat fly from Cretaceous of Transbaikalia.

Picture Credit: National Museums of Scotland

Linking Lower Cretaceous Flies to Upper Cretaceous Dromaeosaurs

Dinosaurs were plagued by flies, just like animals today, although members of the Bolitophilidae family would have been more interested in fungi than flesh.  However, there is a further link between these flies and a member of the Dinosauria.  The dromaeosaurid named Tsaagan mangas, which was scientifically described in 2006, its trivial name was also inspired by a legendary Mongolian monster, the same legendary beast that was the inspiration behind the name of the bolitophilid subfamily, the Mangasinae and the erection of the Mangas genus.

Everything Dinosaur acknowledges the assistance of a press release from the National Museums of Scotland in the compilation of this article.

The scientific paper: “Review of the Fossil Record of Bolitophilidae, with Description of new Taxa and Discussion of Position of Mangas kovalev (Diptera: Sciaroidea)” by Dale E. Greenwalt and Vladimir A. Blagoderov published in the journal Zoo Taxa.