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A novel cold-tolerant insect found in a Himalayan glacier

Abstract

Here we report the discovery of a new species of cold-tolerant midge (Chironomidae, Diamesa Meigen sp.) in a high-altitude glacier of the Nepal Himalayas. The adult insect, characterized by reduced wings and antennae (Fig. 1a), is unable to fly, and is found walking on the surface of the glacier and in small cavities beneath it. The larvae grow in melt-water drainage channels under the ice and feed on blue-green algae and bacteria. The insect is the first to be found which spends its entire life cycle in the snow and ice of a glacier—the coldest insect habitat ever recorded1,2. The insect was active at temperatures as low as −16°C, well below those at which activity has been seen in insects living in other cold habitats, including Antarctic ones. The study also reveals a previously unsuspected ecosystem based on the algae and bacteria growing on glacial ice.

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References

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    Kohshima, S. in Glacial Studies in Langtang Valley (ed. Higuchi, K.) 91–97 (Data Center for Glacier Research, Japanese Society of Snow and Ice, Nagoya University, 1984).

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