A new relationship with animals, nature and each other.

A Message from 310 Million Years Ago

Before the dinosaurs, a mayfly landed and told us her story

Photo by Jacob Benner/ Tufts University

On a warm afternoon, about 310 million years ago, a small insect landed near the bottom of a steep hill, sat there for a few minutes, then flew away.

Twenty-four hours later, her short life as a mayfly would be over. But her timing was perfect. She’d landed in just the right way to leave a lasting imprint. And soon after she’d flown away, some more mud flowed down the hill and covered the imprint in just the right way for it to harden and be preserved … until a university student would uncover it.

The discovery was made by Richard J. Knecht, who was part of a geology team from Tufts University last year. “It left a perfect copy of its body,” he said. “Essentially everything but the wings.”

The team was working in a rock formation behind a strip mall in North Attleborough, Mass. Not only were there no strip malls in the vicinity 310 million years ago; Massachusetts itself was located thousands of miles to the south, where it was part of a steamy, equatorial, carboniferous forest.

The fourth great extinction of species was still tens of millions of years in the future, and the first dinosaurs would not be born for millions of years after that.

Experts say that mayflies like this one were one of the first insects to take to the air.

She left quite a legacy!

The findings of the team are reported in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

What do you say? Have you seen any fossils from millions of years ago? We’d like to know. Comment below or let us know on our Facebook page.

What you can do: Find out more about the Carboniferous Era and how North America was just colliding with Africa to produce the Appalachian Mountains. And find out about mayflies where you live. They’re just coming out now on spring evenings, and they still only life a few hours or days. One of them may be about to leave a legacy that will be discovered millions of years from now!