In the novel and movie Jurassic Park, the blood of a prehistoric mosquito preserved in a piece of amber served to resurrect the lineage of dinosaurs, something very unlikely to be put into practice in real life, as scientists have tired of explaining. Anyway, fantasies aside, the new paleontological finding echoed by the journal Nature Communications is still sensational: the first proof that ticks probably fed on extinct giant reptiles 99 million years ago, in full Cretaceous, as they do today with birds, dogs and other mammals.
The first signatory of the article is Enrique Peñalver, researcher of the Geominero Museum of the Geological and Mining Institute of Spain (IGME), and other Spanish experts participated in the study: Ricardo Pérez de la Fuente (University of Oxford) -director of work-, Antonio Arillo (Complutense University), Xavier Delclòs (UB-IRBio) and David Peris (Universitat Jaume I).
It is four pieces of amber – fossil resin – from northern Myanmar where five parasites were trapped. One of them belongs to a prehistoric species already known ( Cornupalpatum burmanicum ) and is hooked to a feather of a theropod dinosaur, the ancestor of modern birds . It seems that the arachnid, the ancestor of the tick that today transmits the disease of Lyme, was stalking its prey in the pen and had not had time to sink its jaws when it reached the drop of resin.
The other four had certain anatomical features in the part of the mouth and wrinkles in the anus not observed so far, so the researchers assigned them to a new species of extinct parasites: Deinocroton draculi or “terrible ticks of Dracula”, from the family Deinocrotonidae. As Enrique Peñalver has explained, one of them voluntarily released himself from the host after extracting his blood and it was completely swollen, with a size that multiplied by eight to the one he had in a normal state . This way of feeding connects it with the current “soft ticks”, that is, those that do not have a kind of shield like the one presented by the so-called “hard.
Although there are no concrete remains of dinosaurs in the four specimens of Deinocrotonidae, researchers have observed peculiar villi attached to their bodies that are only found in the larvae of beetles called dermstids, habitual inhabitants of animal nests and in the Cretaceous, large lizards. The discovery of the theropod feather – then there were no birds yet – reinforces this hypothesis and points out that 99 million years ago several species of ticks already sucked the blood of dinosaurs.
But did they transmit these bugs, as do the current parasites? With the data gathered by the specialists, it is impossible to determine it; The ideal would be to perform a DNA analysis but as has been repeatedly proven, amber does not keep the genetic material in good condition.