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March 24, 2019

Antarctic midges use antifreeze to protect fragile eggs, study claims

February 23, 2019
Antarctic midges use a jellylike substance to keep unhatched eggs warm. (iStockPhoto)

A creature from Antarctica uses a clever way to keep its would-be offspring toasty — antifreeze!

Smaller than a fingernail, the Antarctic midge, also known as Belgica antarctica, is the continent’s largest land animal.

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Evolution likely bred out the flies’ wings due to the continent’s unforgiving winds. It works out well for midges since they don’t travel far after hatching and just pig out on algae, reported PHYS.ORG.

Eggs hatch about 40 days after females lay them. Once out of their protective sacs, they develop as larvae in deep ice. But before that, the mothers secrete a protective gel that acts like an antifreeze, said researcher and University of Cincinnati student Geoffrey Finch, who posted the study in The Society for Integrative and Comparative Biology.

“The females secrete this clear jelly around the eggs. Essentially, it’s like antifreeze,” said Finch. “It acts as a temperature buffer against those fluctuations to help them survive.

This viscous ooze also allows the eggs to survive Antarctica’s dryness and are capable of surviving after losing more than 70% of their water content.

Scientists have learned the larvae of midges stay sheltered from the the blinding sun and brutal cold by staying warm under a protective layer of moss and soil. During Antarctic summers, daily temperatures can soar into the 40s but lows fall well below freezing.

“You crawl around on the ground and dig in dirt, algae and moss until you find them,” said University of Cincinnati assistant professor Joshua Benoit. “And because of the penguin colonies, there’s a lot of penguin excrement, too. So having all these unique adaptations is what allows them to live in this extreme environment.”

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Unfortunately, when midges become adults in their final week of life, they die just days after mating.

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