Saturday 7 April 2018

Acartophthalmites willii: A new species of Acalyptrate Fly from Eocene Baltic Amber.

Willi Henning (1913-1976) was a German entomologist widely considered to be the founder of phylogenetic systematics (or cladistics), a system for understanding the classification of biological organisms, a method of analysing the relationships within the group based entirely upon shared common features rather than assumed relationships, which he first started working on while held prisoner by British authorities in Italy towards the end of the Second World War. As an entomologist he worked largely on the Acalyptratae (Non-biting Flies), describing many species from Eocene Baltic Amber, and founding our understanding of how these fossil flies were related both to one-another and to living species.

German entomologist Willi Henning in 1972. Gerd Henning/Wikimedia Commons.

In a paper published in the journal ZooKeys on 18 February 2018, Ricardo Pérez-de la Fuente of the Oxford University Museum of Natural History, Christel Hoffeins of Hamburg in Germany, and Jindřich Roháček of the Department of Entomology at the Silesian Museum, describe a new species of Acalyptrate Fly from Eocene Baltic Amber.

Baltic amber is the preserved resin of Eocene Coniferous Trees that formed huge forests covering much of Scandinavia and Northern Europe between about 56 and 34 million years ago. Since this amber floats, it is often found on beaches around the Baltic Sea, and sometimes further afield, making the precise dating of individual pieces difficult.

The new species is named Acartophthalmites willii, in honour of Willi Henning. It is described from a single specimen originally described by Willi Henning in 1969 as a male specimen of Acartophthalmites tertiaria, a species which he had described four years earlier from female specimens only, but which is now recognised as a new species. The specimen is thought to have originated from the Samland Peninsula in the Kaliningrad Oblast of Russia. It is 3.2 mm in length and was probably originally bicoloured, having darker and lighter brown areas as seen in the amber.

Acartophthalmites willii, male specimen in lateral view. Scale bar is 1 mm. Pérez-de la Fuente et al. (2018).

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