Ticks found preserved in amber have confirmed to scientists that they sucked the blood of dinosaurs 99 million years ago. Previous research had indicated that ticks were around 100 million years ago, but fossils from the time period are rare.
This tick, found caught up in a dinosaur feather, has confirmed that ticks fed on the blood of feathered dinosaurs – the first direct evidence of a parasitic relationship between ticks and feathered dinosaurs.
The researchers can't say for sure what kind of feathered dinosaur the tick was feasting on before it was preserved in Burmese amber, but confirmed that it definitely did not come from modern day birds.
“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,” Dr Ricardo Pérez-de la Fuente, study author from the Oxford University Museum of Natural History, explained in a statement.
“So although we can’t be sure what kind of dinosaur the tick was feeding on, the 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”.
Whilst finding a parasite-host relationship between ticks and dinosaurs, researchers also discovered a new type of tick preserved in amber. In the journal Nature Communications, the team describes a new extinct species of tick, named Deinocroton draculi, or "Dracula's terrible tick". One of these fiends was found to be engorged from feasting on dinosaur blood, making it around eight times larger in volume than its fellow Dracula ticks.
We know what you're thinking. A parasite extremely well preserved in amber, filled with blood, found by scientists. Can we now create Jurassic Park?