Written by Frank Cotolo
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Topics: Scientists, Alaska

Saturday, 29 May 2004

COLDWATER, Alaska -- A tiny fossil of a fly was discovered 300 miles from the South Pole and the discoverers feel this could help scientists figure out what life was like millions of years ago in Antarctica, an area usually covered with snow and ice and the last place anyone thinks of vacationing, no less bringing a flyswatter.

The find was made by geologist Allan Ashworth, a man few have heard of before this. He said the find could open a new chapter in the understanding of plant and animal life in ancient Antarctica and shed light on global changes in the climate.

Because until now, scientists did not think that the coldest continent could have the type of fly found. In fact, most scientists have always felt that any insect would freeze in Antarctica and that's why there were always more of them in Africa.

This is wrong, because the fly found in the fossil was a common housefly. What this means, above all, is that ancient Antarctica probably had common houses.

Ashworth found a fly in a stage called a puparium. Now, before this, most people thought a puparium was a store where you bought young dogs.

"I've spent 30 years looking at maggots," said another man who has dedicated his life to finding petrified insects. "It appears it has been time wasted, since Ashworth found the fly in Antarctica and now he is getting all of the attention."

Someone else told reporters, "It was definitely a lot warmer in ancient Antarctica than it is today, so we have to rethink the rate and ability of a fly to disperse across great land masses. We also have to think more about the climate fluctuations in the last 40 million years." When asked if we all had to spend a lot of time thinking about these things, the man said, "If you want to, go ahead."

So, the whole history of Antarctica is poised for changes and some historians are prepared to begin writing on them.

"I am beginning my book," said Professor Samuel Stickload, "with a paragraph devoted to the changes in Antarctica history, even though the book is a romance about a mine worker and a woman who resembles a snapdragon."

A spokesman for Bentarm Publishing House in England said that a series of new books will explore rewriting the history based on the find. Bentarm's Louis Callhome said, "We are learning, too, that Antarctica has other surprising historic elements. Beside the insect thing, we now know that Charlie Chaplin and Edward Everett Horton were born there."

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