A fossil involved in a recent study that raises questions about the evolution of snakeflies. (SFU photo)

A fossil involved in a recent study that raises questions about the evolution of snakeflies. (SFU photo)

Driftwood Canyon fossil raises snakefly mystery

A cold winter insect today, snakeflies used to survive in much warmer climates, study shows

Once again, fossils dug out of Driftwood Canyon are shaking up the world of paleontology with a mysterious new find.

And, once again, Simon Fraser University paleontologist Bruce Archibald, who frequents Driftwood, is behind it.

Archibald and a colleague from Russia, Vladimir Makarkin, have identified four new species of snakeflies.

“Snakeflies are slender, predatory insects that are native to the Northern Hemisphere and noticeably absent from tropical regions,” an SFU press release stated. “Scientists have traditionally believed that they require cold winters to trigger development into adults, restricting them almost exclusively to regions that experience winter frost days or colder.”

READ MORE: Newly identified extinct insect suborder includes new species from Driftwood Canyon

The fossils involved in the study range from Driftwood Canyon to the McAbee fossil site in southern B.C., and all the way to the city of Republic in northern Washington.

But, while these locales experience the kind of winters modern snakeflies need today, 50 million years ago the climate was much different.

The four species Archibald and Makarkin identified belong to two families still in existence. Those two families, the scientists believe, independently adapted to cold winters after the fossil species lived, raising an important question.

“Now we know that earlier in their evolutionary history, snakeflies were living in climates with very mild winters and so the question becomes why didn’t they keep their ability to live in such regions?” Archibald said. “Why aren’t snakeflies found in the tropics today?”

READ MORE: 50 million year old bird comes home to roost


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