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An international research group coordinated by Professor Pierfilippo Cerretti from the “Charles Darwin” Department of Biology and Biotechnology at Sapienza University has found an ancestor of the common fly, preserved in amber, from 17 million years ago.

The insect belongs to the same group as the common household fly and the tsetse fly, which includes over 22,000 living species and demonstrates one of the most spectacular adaptation stories in global history. In fact, these insects are abundant in every terrestrial habitat and often play key roles as decomposers, parasites, pathogen vectors and pollinators.

“It’s hard to imagine a world without the nuisance of flies,” Cerretti explains. “Who would take their place as efficient decomposers of organic matter? To date there was no fossil available of the Oestroids, the most ecologically diverse and species-rich group amongst the Calyptratae.”

The article published on “Plos One” describes the first Oestroid fossil found in sediment from the Miocene northeast of Santiago in the Dominican Republic, part of the James Zigras Collection conserved at the Museum of Natural History in New York.

The fly, which is perfectly conserved in the fossil resin and dates back to seventeen million years ago, has been examined in detail via CAT-scan. The tests have provided crucial details on the insect’s anatomical details that have helped identify the exact species.

The fossil has also been used to calibrate the philogenesis of Diptera Calyptratae obtained through molecular data, revealing that these insects diverged from the main branch ca. 70 million year ago, just before the mass extinction that took place between the Cretaceous and the Cenozoic Eras. Moreover, it was also used to determine that the large flies known to the scientific world as Oestroids originated in the Eocene (ca. 50 million years ago).

The story of these flies is similar to that of other groups of fauna and flora - mammals, birds and flowers – that have managed to gain an advantage from the great upheaval of the ecosystem that took place with the demise of the dinosaurs.

PLOS ONE: First fossil of an Oestroid Fly (Diptera: Calyptratae: Oestroid) and the Dating of Oestroid Divergences - Pierfilippo Cerretti*, John O. Stireman III, Thomas Pape, James E. O’Hara, Marco A. T. Marinho, Knut Rognes, David A. Grimaldi.