Scientists have uncovered what they are calling the oldest full-body impression of a flying insect, possibly an ancient mayfly.
"[The fossil] captures a moment in time over 300 million years ago when a flying insect just happened to land on a damp, muddy surface leaving almost a perfect impression of its body behind," said researcher Jake Benner, a paleontologist at Tufts University in Massachusetts.
Benner and Tufts geologist Richard Knecht discovered the insect imprint in a shale and sandstone outcropping hidden in a wooded field behind a strip mall in North Attleboro, Mass. Knecht had learned of the site while reading a master's thesis written in 1929.
With a length of about three inches (eight centimeters), the 310 million-year-old impression did not include wings. But Knecht and Benner said the insect's body structure was similar to that of primitive flying insects. In addition, "there are no walking tracks leading up to the body impression, indicating that it came from above," Benner said.
The insect may have been a mayfly.
"We can tell from the imprint that it has a very squat position when it lands," said researcher Michael Engel, an entomologist at the University of Kansas. "Its legs are sprawled and its belly is pressed down. The only group that does that today is the mayfly."
There's a bit more about the Carboniferous ecosystem. Mayfly esque body casts. sweet.