New fly fossil sheds light on the explosive radiation of flies during the Cenozoic Era

August 23, 2017, Public Library of Science
Holotype of Mesembrinella caenozoica sp. nov. Credit: Cerretti et al (2017)

The first unambiguous fossil from the botfly family adds to the few known fossils of a major clade of flies (Calyptratae), shedding light on their rapid radiation during the Cenozoic Era, according to a study published August 23, 2017 in the open-access journal PLOS ONE by Pierfilippo Cerrito from Sapienza Università di Roma, Italy, and colleagues.

The bot fly family (Oestroidea) is the most diverse group of calyptrate , which is a clade of some 22,000 living species that comprise about 14% all flies. Calyptrates arose during the Cenozoic, in what was the most rampant radiation of flies ever and among the largest radiations of insects during this era. The clade includes some of the most diverse and ecologically important families of flies: tsetse, louse, and bat flies; house flies and relatives; and blow flies, bot flies, flesh flies, and relatives. Abundant in most terrestrial ecosystems, calyptrates often play key roles as decomposers, parasites, parasitoids, vectors of pathogen vectors, and pollinators. However, there are few reliable calyptrate fossils.

Cerretti and colleagues describe the first unambiguous oestroid fossil: a new species of fly (Mesembrinella caenozoica) discovered in amber from the Dominican Republic. The researchers also used the few known calyptrate fossils as calibration points for a molecular phylogeny to estimate the timing of major radiations in this clade.

The researchers estimate that the most recent common ancestor of today's calyptrate flies lived about 70 million years ago—that is, just before the Cretaceous-Paleogene boundary; that the radiation of oestroids began about 50 million years ago; and that the family M. caenozoica belongs to (Mesembrinellidae) originated about 40 million years ago. Importantly, the Cretaceous-Paleogene extinction event played a role in major radiations of birds, mammals and angiosperms—and this work suggests that it may also have been crucial to boosting calyptrate diversification during the Cenozoic.

Explore further: Time flies: Insect fossils in amber shed light on India's geological history

More information: Cerretti P, Stireman JO III, Pape T, O'Hara JE, Marinho MAT, Rognes K, et al. (2017) First fossil of an oestroid fly (Diptera: Calyptratae: Oestroidea) and the dating of oestroid divergences. PLoS ONE 12(8): e0182101. DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0182101

Related Stories

Flies that pollinized Cretaceous plants 105 million years ago

July 10, 2015

When we think about pollination, the image that comes first to mind is a bee or a butterfly covered by pollen. However, in the Cretaceous —about 105 million years ago— bees and butterflies did not exist, and most terrestrial ...

The irresistible fragrance of dying vinegar flies

August 16, 2017

Markus Knaden and Bill Hansson, and their colleagues at the Department of Evolutionary Neuroethology, study ecologically relevant odors in the natural environment of insects, especially vinegar flies. In this new study they ...

How to kill fruit flies, according to a scientist

August 9, 2017

As a researcher who works on fruit flies, I often get asked how to get them out of someone's kitchen. This happens to fly researchers often enough that we sit around fly conferences (these actually exist) and complain about ...

Recommended for you

Can China keep it's climate promises?

March 26, 2019

China can easily meet its Paris climate pledge to peak its greenhouse gas emissions by 2030, but sourcing 20 percent of its energy needs from renewables and nuclear power by that date may be considerably harder, researchers ...

What happened before the Big Bang?

March 26, 2019

A team of scientists has proposed a powerful new test for inflation, the theory that the universe dramatically expanded in size in a fleeting fraction of a second right after the Big Bang. Their goal is to give insight into ...

Cellular microRNA detection with miRacles

March 26, 2019

MicroRNAs (miRNAs) are short noncoding regulatory RNAs that can repress gene expression post-transcriptionally and are therefore increasingly used as biomarkers of disease. Detecting miRNAs can be arduous and expensive as ...

In the Tree of Life, youth has its advantages

March 26, 2019

It's a question that has captivated naturalists for centuries: Why have some groups of organisms enjoyed incredibly diversity—like fish, birds, insects—while others have contained only a few species—like humans.

1 comment

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

rrrander
not rated yet Aug 23, 2017
"Vectors of pathogen vectors" English?

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.