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Researchers find the first tick that feed from dinosaur blood a hundred million years ago

The first tick to feed from feathered dinosaur blood 100 million years ago has been found in an amber piece from the Cretaceous.

The first tick to feed from feathered dinosaur blood 100 million years ago has been found in an amber piece from the Cretaceous.

The species  <i>Cornupalpatum burmanicum</i> is the first direct evidence of the host-parasite relation between mites and feathered dinosaurs.

The species Cornupalpatum burmanicum is the first direct evidence of the host-parasite relation between mites and feathered dinosaurs.

The research describes a new species of thick  —<i>Deinocroton draculi</i>, the Dracula bug— which parasitized dinosaurs from the Mesozoic period.

The research describes a new species of thick —Deinocroton draculi, the Dracula bug— which parasitized dinosaurs from the Mesozoic period.

Nowadays ticks are still parasitizing and transmitting diseases to different living beings.

Nowadays ticks are still parasitizing and transmitting diseases to different living beings.

Researcher Xavier Delclòs, from the Faculty of Earth Sciences and the Biodiversity Research Institute (IRBio) of the University of Barcelona.

Researcher Xavier Delclòs, from the Faculty of Earth Sciences and the Biodiversity Research Institute (IRBio) of the University of Barcelona.

12/12/2017

Recerca

A hundred million years ago, ticks were already feeding from theropod dinosaurs’ blood, according to an article published in the journal Nature Communications by an international team with the participation of the lecturer Xavier Delclòs, from the Faculty of Earth Sciences and the Biodiversity Research Institute (IRBio) of the Univesity of Barcelona. The new study reveals the first direct evidence of the parasitism relation between mites and feathered dinosaurs, some of which evolved into the lineage of modern birds in the late Cretaceous.

 

Amber with ticks from the Cretaceous found in Myanmar

The new study is based on Burmese amber pieces from the Cretaceous which show an open window to visit the world of feathered dinosaurs. In the study, experts analyse a Burmese amber piece from the Cretaceous which had a fossil tick –a model of Cornupalpatum burmanicum, an extinguished species- stuck to the feather of a theropod dinosaur.


“This finding is important because it is hard to find fossils of blood-feeding parasites directly related to the remains of their host. Also, this model of hematophagic parasite is the oldest one known so far in the parasitism between arthropods and vertebrates” says Xavier Delclòs (UB-IRBio). The article is also signed by Enrique Peñalver (Geological and Mining Institute of Spain, IGME); Ricardo Pérez de la Fuente (University of Oxford, United Kingdom), David Grimaldi (American Museum of Natural History, United States), Antonio Arillo (Complutense University of Madrid) and David Peris (Jaume I University, UJI), among other experts.

According to Enrique Peñalver (IGME), main author of the study, “ticks are blood-sucking parasites, and can affect the health of humans, livestock, pets, and wild animals. However, there was not scientific evidence on their role over evolution so far”. The short life of yje complex DNA molecule, made the recovery of dinosaurs’ genetic material impossible, a sophisticated technique that inspired successful movies to take back the main characters of the Secondary Era on Earth.  


When ticks feed from dinosaurs’ blood 100 million years ago

The findings of feathers on the fossil records are not common but there have been some remains identified in sites worldwide. “The fossil record points out that feathers such as the ones in this study were present in a wide range of theropod dinosaurs, a group covering from terrestrial creatures unable to fly to bird-like dinosaurs that could fly” says Ricardo Pérez de la Fuente, researcher from the Oxford University Museum of Natural History.

“Therefore –he continues- despite not completely knowing which feathered dinosaur this tick was feeding from, the dating of the Burmese amber from the Cretaceous verifies that the feather did not belong to modern birds, since these appeared later in the evolution of theropods, according to the current fossil and molecular evidence”.

Discovering the Dracula Bug

In another Burmese amber piece, researchers found a blood-swollen tick (eight times bigger than bloodless models) from a close family to that of C. burmanicum, corresponding to corresponding to a new species, Deinocroton draculi. Unlike Cronupalpatum burmanicum, this new fossil from the extinguished family of ticks Deinocrotonidae –also noted in this study- was not directly associated to its host.

“It was not possible to determine the composition of the blood intake by this thickened tick. Unfortunately, the parasite did not completely sink in the resin and its content was altered due the mineral deposition” says Xavier Delclòs, lecturer from the Department of Earth and Ocean Dynamics of the UB.

However, the appearance of remains of specialized setae from beetle larvae –in particular, dermestidae coleoptera- in the legs of ticks from the Deinocrotonidae family is an indirect trace suggesting that feathered dinosaurs, ticks and beetles would cohabit –probably within a common reduced space- where they got caught by resin. “The simultaneous capture of two external parasite species –ticks- is an extraordinary fact, and can be better explained if considering they are organisms sharing a common habitat like some current ticks do, which live in the host nest or nearby” concluded David Grimaldi, from the American Museum of Natural History.  

The authors remember birds are the only descending lineage from theropod dinosaurs that survived the massive extinction from the late Cretaceous, while nowadays ticks are still parasitizing and transmitting diseases to different living beings.

 

 

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