Ticks were annoying then as much as they're annoying now, new discoveries show.
Paul Nascimbene, a fossil insect researcher, spotted a tick embedded inside a morsel of a 99-million-year-old fossil. The bloodsucking pest was tangled in a dinosaur feather, which suggests that ticks also clung to our Triassic reptiles like they do now on dogs, birds, and deer.
Prehistoric Ticks Were Sucking Blood Off Dinosaurs, Study Finds
The new discovery was recently published in the Nature Communications journal, but it's just part of a much larger parcel. As it turns out, five prehistoric ticks were preserved inside four Amber fossil portions that were uncovered. The first one, described above, belongs to a recognized prehistoric species. The rest are entirely estranged from the researchers — they belong to a new species of ticks scientists have never previously encountered.
They're called Dracula's terrible tick, or Deinocroton draculi, more specifically. Suffice it to say that they are dissimilar to any tick species alive currently.
The research was spearheaded when private collectors purchased portions of amber mined in northern Myanmar, with the amber itself part of a collection of fossils that has already brought out feathered dinosaur wings and even a tail.
Nascimbene and Ricardo Pérez-de la Fuente, from the Oxford University Museum of Natural History, were then tapped to analyze the chunks. Nascimbene was the one who discovered the tick with the feather, while Pérez-de la Fuente was the one who discovered the new tick species.
''Ticks parasitised feathered dinosaurs; now we have direct evidence of it,'' said Pérez-de la Fuente. ''This paper represents a very good example of the kind of detailed information that can be extracted from amber fossils.''
An even more awesome discovery is the fibers found attached to the bodies of the parasites. Initially, Pérez-de la Fuente thought that they were merely feathers, but upon consulting a beetle expert, he found out that those fibers were actually spiky hairs of prehistoric carpet beetles. This suggests that ticks and beetles might have pestered in the nests of feathered dinosaurs together.
Possible DNA Analysis?
That's all speculation for now, of course, but the new discoveries strongly suggest that multiple species of ticks were highly likely sucking blood from dinosaurs 99 million years ago. So that means when dinosaurs became extinct 66 million years ago, species of ticks survived and continued to thrive, even now.
What could lead to even more groundbreaking discoveries is when researchers are able to analyze the blood inside those ticks, but amber doesn't really preserve DNA too well, and they want to avoid damaging what specimen they have left.