Ukrainian zoologists Andriy and Serhiy Utevsky have discovered a new species of Antarctic leech belonging to the platypus group. The species, named Austroplatybdellina prodiga, is unique in that its ancestors migrated from the Antarctic to the Arctic and then returned to the Antarctic.
The discovery of the new species occurred during a joint study of the distribution of fish parasites - piscicolid leeches. Scientists found that the new leech lives in the Ross Sea, in the waters around Antarctica, the National Antarctic Science Center reports on Facebook.
"This is an extremely interesting discovery," said Sergiy Utevsky, "because most animals live exclusively in either the Northern or Southern Hemisphere. And here we see that the ancestors of this species migrated from the Antarctic to the Arctic, and then returned to the Antarctic again."
Phylogenetic analysis and reconstruction of ancestral habitats showed that fish leeches originated in the seas around Antarctica, then they spread across the world's oceans, reached the Arctic and penetrated freshwater bodies in the Northern Hemisphere. However, later the ancestor of Austroplatybdellina prodiga returned from the north to the ancestral home of the entire family of fish leeches in the Antarctic.
A molecular clock has revealed that the new species split off from its northern relatives about 1.76 million years ago during the Pleistocene, when the Earth's surface underwent significant cooling. It was during this era that it was able to cross the tropics.
"The evolutionary history of the new species reminded us of the parable of the prodigal son," added Sergiy Utevsky, "So the full official name of the new species we described is Austroplatybdellina prodiga.
As a reminder, a new species of dragon dinosaurs similar to birds has been discovered in Mongolia.
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