Scientists have made an incredible discovery of a tick wrapped in spider silk and then swallowed by amber back in the Cretaceous period.
The find was made by German collector Patrick Müller in Myanmar. Experts at the Museum für Naturkunde in Berlin and the University of Kansas later confirmed the finding as dating back about 100 million years. The findings have been published in the journal Cretaceous Research.
It appears that the tick was wrapped up by the spider in lieu of having a tasty snack. But when a drop of amber fell on the tick, it was preserved until the modern day in stunning condition.
"Ticks already are known from the Burmese amber – but it's unusual to find one wrapped in spider silk,” Paul Selden from the University of Kansas, one of the study’s co-authors, said in a statement. “We're not sure if the spider wrapped it in order to eat it later or if it was to get it out of the way and stop it from wriggling and destroying its web. That's something spiders do."
Findings like this are rare (although this isn't the first tick found in amber, and we know you're dying to know whether it would be possible to create a real-life Jurassic Park) as ticks aren’t generally found on tree trunks, and amber is tree resin. So it’s not entirely clear how it ended up here, but it must have somehow found its way trapped in this spider’s web.
“Maybe some things can escape after some struggle, so the spider rushes to it out from hiding and wraps it in swaths of silk to immobilize it, to stop it escaping or destroying the web,” said Selden. “This prevents prey from hitting back – stinging or biting – once it's wrapped in silk it can't move, and then the spider can bite it and inject gastric fluid to eat it or venom to subdue it as well.”
Interestingly, this is the first time a tick has been found wrapped in a spider’s web in the fossil record. Those spiders didn’t usually opt for ticks as part of their diet, so the finding is quite unusual. Modern spiders occasionally do prey on ticks, though.
From the silk itself, the researchers are not sure what type of spider it was that caught the tick. However, it’s thought that the spider’s behaviour was quite common when compared to its more modern counterparts.