Lucky escape for Europe's oldest flying insect

日期:2019-03-03 02:07:03 作者:汪县 阅读:

By SUE BOWLER A student on a field trip to Ireland this Easter found the oldest winged insect in Western Europe. The fossil is 322 million years old but it suggests that winged insects evolved much earlier, for it has two sets of wings, folded back along its body. The most primitive flying insects had a single pair of wings, sticking out from the body. The find was lucky to survive, says Paul Wignall, the palaeontologist from the University of Leeds leading the students at the site, not previously known for fossil insects. Chris Nolan found the fossil when he split the rock. ‘He thought it was a modern insect that had crawled down a bedding plain and got squashed,’ said Wignall. ‘One student even rubbed a bit of it away before realising it was real.’ The specimen is now at the Booth Museum in Brighton. The curator, Ed Jarzembowski, is enthusiastic about the find. ‘It’s obviously an insect, but not the best specimen I’ve ever seen. It is the oldest winged insect found in Britain.’ The fossil is not spectacular to look at; it is about 2 centimetres long and brown, made of iron minerals akin to rust. ‘The preservation is not very good,’ says Wignall. ‘It’s really just a brown splodge with the outline of an insect.’ But the outline is clear enough to see that the insect had two pairs of wings, each slightly different shapes and folded back along its body. The fossil’s most important feature is its wings. ‘Theoretically, the ancestral flying insect had a single pair of wings sticking out sideways from its body,’ says Wignall. ‘If they had evolved this far by the mid-Namurian,