Around 400 million years ago, a bug-like creature developed a tiny protein that was essential for our evolution.
Key points of this article that can be understood in 3 lines in number
- Springtails are small bugs found around the world. They helped the Earth’s evolution by making antifreeze proteins to live in tough places.
- Some animals survived extinction by adapting to freezing temperatures with AFPs. These proteins helped them survive events like the end of the Ordovician era.
- Antifreeze Proteins (AFPs) were found in springtails. These AFPs were developed before fish and insects. This discovery proves how important AFPs are for different life forms to survive and evolve on Earth.
Life on Earth is complex. Each organism plays a vital role, from the biggest to the smallest. Biodiversity makes our planet diverse and rich. Small arthropods live in the soil unnoticed, and they are essential. Without them, life would be very different, including human existence. These tiny animals are called springtails.
What are springtails?
Springtails are found everywhere and are abundant on Earth. There are over 9,000 known types of them. They vary in size from 0.2 to 10 millimeters, which is too small to see with the naked eye. They played an important role in the history of life on our planet.
About 450 million years ago, the Ordovician period ended and habitats became cold. Many marine species disappeared. One after another, animals died. The Devonian extinction only affected aquatic species because animals had not reached land yet.
The springtail survived despite the harsh environment. It is a small bug that adapted to the cold and barren environment. This place was once full of water and life.
What was this superpower?
Springtails create antifreeze proteins (AFPs) in their cells to prevent freezing and survive winter. These AFPs are like other proteins produced naturally in the body. Scientists believe that springtails were the first animals to create these proteins.
Antifreeze proteins have evolved separately many times. Fish, insects, and spiders have them. We didn’t know they developed so early until the study reported in Scientific Reports. Martin Holmstrup, a professor at Aarhus University, explained this.
The creature is small and insect-like. It’s called a springtail because of its tail, which acts like a spring. This appendage lets the creature jump up to 10 centimeters high. The springtail can survive because it can escape predators easily.
According to researchers, springtails developed antifreeze protein earlier than other animals. Fish and insects took a million years to develop this protein. Plants and microorganisms like bacteria and algae could have developed it even before.
A protein in this creature helps it survive in cold places like mountains and the poles. Many marine animals died in a bad event long ago, but this creature’s protein helped it survive. The most affected were brachiopods and bryozoans, which were common at the time. Trilobites and conodonts also had problems, but they managed to live through it.
The Ordovician event caused a big loss of different animals on Earth. But it allowed new groups of creatures to appear and become more complex later.
- Lefebvre, B., Álvaro, J., Casas, J., Ghienne, J., Herbosch, A., Loi, A., Monceret, E., Verniers, J., Vidal, M., Vizcaïno, D., & Servais, T. (2023). The Ordovician from France and neighboring areas of Belgium and Germany. Geological Society, London, Special Publications. https://doi.org/10.1144/sp532-2022-268
- Park, H., & Lee, D. (2023). Goryeocrinus pentagrammos n. gen. n. sp. (Rhodocrinitidae; Diplobathrida), the first record of camerate crinoid from the Middle Ordovician (Darriwilian) of South Korea (East Gondwana). Journal of Paleontology. https://doi.org/10.1017/jpa.2022.100.
- Servais, T., Harper, D., Lefebvre, B., & Percival, I. (2023). A journey through the Ordovician System around the World. Geological Society, London, Special Publications. https://doi.org/10.1144/sp533-2023-23.