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?
Unfortunately, Jurrasic Park fans, it appears we won't be able to recreate the film using DNA extracted from these ticks. First off, the tick is from the Cretaceous period, so it would have to be called "Cretaceous Park". This just isn't as catchy and anyone calling their park this would be unlikely to secure the funding.
Second – the actual sciency bit – it is next to impossible to extract dinosaur DNA from a specimen preserved in amber.
"Although Jurassic Park was based on a real study that had claimed to have extracted DNA from amber," Pérez-de la Fuente told Research Gate, "subsequent experiments concluded that the amber sample had been contaminated by modern DNA. Currently, the technique to extract sufficiently well-preserved DNA from amber – if that is ever possible – does not exist, as DNA easily degrades as time goes by."
Even the specimen found engorged with dinosaur blood isn't enough to provide DNA for a mad scientist with a dream of creating an amazing theme park that will inevitably get out of hand.
“Unfortunately, the tick did not become fully immersed in resin and so its contents were altered by mineral deposition,” Dr Xavier Delclòs, from the University of Barcelona and IRBio, explained.
Sorry, everybody. Sorry, Spielberg.