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Rhyniognatha hirsti
The Oldest Insect

Scientists looking through a drawer of fossils at the Natural History Museum in London, stumbled across a significant find hidden in the same drawer for 80 years. Embedded in a crystalline rock, were the jaw fragments of what is now believed to be the world's oldest known insect fossil. Due to the jaws' robust nature and features that look similiar to tiny bird wings, Rhyniognatha may have been able to fly, placing it amongst "the earliest of terrestrial faunas."

Previously, the earliest appearance of insects was dated at around 380 million years. Rhyniognatha now pushes that date back to the Early Devonian Period at approximately 400 million years. Dr. David Gramaldi and Dr. Michael Engel discovered the rare finds and this week's journal Nature will present those findings to the world. Their theory of flight attributed to this fossil is believed by some to be a "smoking gun", but others give enough substance to the belief to have already begun looking for other such fossils in the translucent chert found in Rhynie, Scotland.

These tiny sharp, bladed mandibles, which measure less than one-two-hundred-fifthieth of an inch across and which can only be seen after rock samples have been cut into thin slices, present an arduous task for those seeking further evidence. But once seen under a microscope, these fragments exhibit true indicators of a lineage of advanced insects, including "sockets that form part of a hingelike mechanism." If indeed these early insects dated at 400 million years could fly, then all other insects, which have no prior indicators for such an ability, would have to have been even older, as ancient as the first plants in the Silurian Period. But this may be only the tip of the bugberg, as Dr. Engel, a Paleoentomologist from the University of Kansas, says, "There are jackpots out there waiting to be grabbed hold of." Happy grabbing.


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