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The good thing about the short Antarctic summer is it's a lot like a Midwest winter.
But for wingless flies, that's also the bad thing about Antarctic summers. The flies and their eggs must contend with an unpredictable pattern of alternating mild and bitterly cold days.
University - Cincinnati - Biologist - Joshua - Benoit
University of Cincinnati biologist Joshua Benoit traveled to this Land of the Midnight Sun to learn how Antarctica's only true insect can survive constant freezing and thawing. He found that the midges have surprising adaptations for life in their wintry realm.
Benoit and his students presented their findings in January at the Society for Integrative and Comparative Biology conference in Tampa, Florida.
Smaller - Tic - Tac - Belgica - Antarctica
Smaller than a Tic Tac, Belgica antarctica is the largest land animal found in Antarctica. Larvae resemble plum-colored worms. Adults are black and antlike.
At some point in their evolution, the little midges lost their wings—possibly to cope with the notorious Antarctic winds. Since they eat abundant algae and never travel far from where they're hatched, the flies don't need to fly.
Finding them isn't hard.
"You crawl around on the ground and dig in dirt, algae and moss until you find them," said Benoit, an assistant professor in UC's McMicken College of Arts and Sciences. "And because of the penguin colonies, there's a lot of penguin excrement, too."
Benoit - Missions - Antarctica - Research - Palmer
Benoit has undertaken three scientific missions to Antarctica, conducting research out of Palmer Station in the U.S. Antarctic Program. Previously, he studied Antarctic ticks that feed on penguins and other sea birds.
For his latest project, Benoit examined the molecular mechanisms underlying the fly's reproduction. Like other midges, adult flies mate in big swarms during the brief Antarctic summer. The females lay eggs that hatch about 40 days later. Then the newborn flies spend the next two years developing as larvae, entombed for much of the year in ice.
It's only in their...
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