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Mystery Midge with “Kite Tail” Eggs

300 225 Stroud Water Research Center

In 2015, Stroud Water Research Center researchers Sherman Roberts and Dave Funk, along with a former Stroud Center employee, were camping on the northern bank of Lake Umbagog along the border of Maine and New Hampshire. One morning, Roberts noticed some insects flying over the lake with what appeared to be long strings dangling beneath them. He pointed them out to Funk, who then paddled his kayak out and was able to collect two of them.

They turned out to be females of a chironomid midge, and the strings were eggs enveloped in a linear gelatinous matrix that, once it had been extruded in sufficient length, was dropped into the lake. When Funk returned to Pennsylvania, he was able to determine which chironomid subfamily these females belonged to, but since the genus- and species-level taxonomy of this group is based on adult males, was unable to identify beyond Orthocladiinae.

A search of the technical literature failed to turn up any references to this sort of egg-laying behavior in the Chironomidae. So in June of 2016, the researchers made a trip back to the same campsite and observed the midges on several mornings. Roberts was able to capture some video, and Funk some stills, as well as collect some more females and their eggs to bring back to the Stroud Center for rearing. Funk produced the video and posted a link to it at a website that specializes in this group of flies.

Responses came in from around the world; the consensus was that no one had observed such a thing before, and the experts were dying to find out what species — or even genus — this midge belonged to. Funk had three specimens sequenced for the bar code gene, COI, with the hope they could be matched to a known species in the world database. No matches were found.

In June 2017, the crew will return to Lake Umbagog once again in the hope of finding some male or larval specimens that are identifiable.

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