Last updated January 11, 2018 at 10:27 am
In an image that looks straight from Jurassic Park, researchers have published today the fossil discovery of ticks clasping dinosaur feathers trapped in 100 million-year-old amber.
These types of fossils, capturing a blood feeding parasite in association with its host, are extremely rare. Other remarkable examples (with more stunning pictures!) include an ant with a parasitic mite or nemoatodes or parasitic wasps.
This specimen, from Mayanmar, is the oldest known to date. This amber originates from the cretaceous period 145-66 million years ago, the time that triceratops, Tyrannosaurus Rex and velociraptors walked the earth. But which dinosaur the feather in this sample is from remains a mystery.
“The fossil record tells us that feathers like the one we have studied were already present on a wide range of theropod dinosaurs, a group which included ground-running forms without flying ability, as well as bird-like dinosaurs capable of powered flight,” explains Dr Ricardo Pérez-de la Fuente, a research fellow at Oxford University Museum of Natural History and one of the authors of the study.
“So although we can’t be sure what kind of dinosaur the tick was feeding on, the mid-Cretaceous age of the Burmese amber confirms that the feather certainly did not belong to a modern bird, as these appeared much later in theropod evolution according to current fossil and molecular evidence”.
As well as the tick grasping the feather, other blood engorged ticks were also encapsulated into the amber. But don’t hold any hopes for isolating any dino-DNA, to date there have not been any successful attempts to isolate DNA from amber specimens.
“Assessing the composition of the blood meal inside the bloated tick is not feasible because, unfortunately, the tick did not become fully immersed in resin and so its contents were altered by mineral deposition,” explains Dr Xavier Delclòs, an author of the study from the University of Barcelona and IRBio.
The researchers think that these ticks lived in feathered dinosaur nests, as modern ticks that parasitise birds often do.
The research was published in Nature Communications.