Saturday 18 November 2023

Baskintoconops maaloufi: A new species of Biting Midge from Early Cretaceous Lebanese Amber.

Biting Midges, Ceratopogonidae, are a highly diverse group of True Flies, Diptera, found in all terrestrial environments today, and with a substantial fossil record. Female Biting Midges require a protein meal before laying their eggs, and many obtain this by taking blood or haemolymph from a living Animal (giving them the group its common name) although others visit carrion or obtain nectar or pollen from Plants. Males do not bite. The fossil record of the group dates back to the Early Cretaceous, from when eight genera are known, including six genera and thirty species from Lebanese and Jordanian amber.

In a paper published in the European Journal of Taxonomy on 15 November 2023, Agata Pielowska-Ceranowska of the Laboratory of Evolutionary Entomology and Museum of Amber Inclusions at the University of Gdańsk, Dany Azar of the State Key Laboratory of Palaeobiology and Stratigraphy at the Nanjing Institute of Geology and Palaeontology of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, and the Department of Biology at the Lebanese University, and Jacek Szwedo, also of the Laboratory of Evolutionary Entomology and Museum of Amber Inclusions at the University of Gdańsk, describe a new species of Biting Midge from the Baskinta (Qanat Bakish) amber outcrop in Lebanon, the first member of the group from this location.

The new species is described from a single female specimen. The wing venation is deemed sufficiently unique for it to be placed in a new genus, which is named Baskintoconops, in reference to the village of Baskinta where it was found, and given the specific name maaloufi, in honour of Mounir and Ramy Maalouf, who collected the specimen. The specimen is 0.86 mm long, with a wing length of 0.5 mm. It has reniform (kidney shaped) eyes and elongated, needle-like mouthparts, and antennae  divided into  15  antennomeres.

Baskintoconops  maaloufi,  holotype  (QBC-13D).  (A)  General  view.  (B)  Compound  eye  and  right  antenna.  (C)  Anterior  portion  of  body,  left  lateral  view.  (D) Head and mouthparts, right lateral view. Pielowska-Ceranowska et al. (2023).

Baskintoconops maaloufi represents the seventh genus and thirty-first species of Biting Midge from Early Cretaceous Lebanese Amber, showing that the group was already diverse and successful by the time these deposits were formed. It has been suggested that this early radiation of the group in the Early Cretaceous was due to the adaptation to feeding on the blood of Vertebrates, though there is no direct evidence for this. The amber-producing Early Cretaceous deposits of Lebanon have yielded the tracks and teeth of a variety of Dinosaurs, although these seem like poor targets for a biting Insect without very specialised mouthparts. These deposits have also produced fossils of both Birds and Pterosaurs, which had thinner skins and seem more plausible food sources, and are known to have been close to water, which might plausibly have attracted Mammals into the area, providing another group of potential blood-doners.

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