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Blood-filled parasites found trapped in amber

December 13, 2017 | Comment icon 12 comments

The parasites date back to the mid-Cretaceous. Image Credit: PD - Sebakoamber
Palaeontologists have discovered prehistoric parasites that once fed on the blood of dinosaurs.
Identified as a new species of tick dating back almost 100 million years, the insects were discovered inside amber unearthed in Burma and are the oldest known blood-sucking parasites ever found.

The species has been named Deinocroton draculi, or "Dracula's terrible tick".

The parasites were preserved alongside what appear to be dinosaur feathers, suggesting that they would have fed primarily upon meat-eating therapod dinosaurs.

One of the ticks in particular was so gorged on blood that it had swollen to eight times its normal size.
"The fossil record tells us that feathers like the one we have studied were already present on a wide range of theropod dinosaurs," said palaeobiologist Dr Ricardo Perez-de la Fuente.

"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."

Sadly though, unlike in the movie Jurrasic Park, retrieving DNA from the amber is not possible.

"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," said University of Barcelona researcher Dr Xavier Delclos.

Source: Independent | Comments (12)

Recent comments on this story
Comment icon #3 Posted by _KB_ 5 years ago
... can we clone dinos now?
Comment icon #4 Posted by DirtyDocMartens 5 years ago
Does this imply that if a tick that is fully immersed in amber is found, we might be able to extract it's host's DNA? 
Comment icon #5 Posted by ShadowSot 5 years ago
We might get fragments. Which we already have done. Some fossils have been preserved with soft tissue. But DNA has a half life of a few thousand years. It's just to old. 
Comment icon #6 Posted by Carnoferox 5 years ago
    No DNA is preserved in insects encased in amber as it only has a half life of 521 years. While there were a few reports of DNA being recovered from amber inclusions in the 1990's, the results were not able to be independently replicated and turned out to be modern contamination.
Comment icon #7 Posted by ShadowSot 5 years ago
Ah, I never followed up on that. My mistake. And I had completely misremembered the half life of DNA, thanks for the correction.
Comment icon #8 Posted by _KB_ 5 years ago
while it is likely that there is no usable dna, but theoretically there might be a slight chance of dna being preserved... this is given perfect circumstances and preferably a really large blood sucking insect
Comment icon #9 Posted by Carnoferox 5 years ago
DNA completely degrades by around 6.8 millions years, which is far younger than the Cretaceous Burmese amber deposits. 
Comment icon #10 Posted by _KB_ 5 years ago
not necessarily, do you know why DNA degrades? 
Comment icon #11 Posted by Carnoferox 5 years ago
Yes DNA does degrade completely by that time due to environmental factors (read Allentoft et al. 2012). Amber does not actually provide any preservational advantages for DNA and it degrades even more quickly than in bone. Copal (resin that is not fully fossilized into amber) with insect inclusions that was less than 60 years old was tested in Penney et al. (2013), which failed to find any DNA in a sample even that young.
Comment icon #12 Posted by _KB_ 5 years ago
In that case I misunderstood what ember means, sorry English is not my first language, i thought it was something else entirely

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