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Dinosaurs Dealt With Pesky Ticks, Too

TUESDAY, Dec. 12, 2017 -- Dinosaurs probably didn't do "tick checks," but even they had to put up with the blood-sucking critters, a piece of fossilized amber reveals.

Researchers say they've found a 100-million-year-old piece of Burmese amber that contained an extinct type of tick grasping a dinosaur feather.

It's the first direct fossil evidence that ticks fed on dinosaurs, the scientists reported in the Dec. 12 issue of Nature Communications.

"Ticks are infamous blood-sucking, parasitic organisms, having a tremendous impact on the health of humans, livestock, pets and even wildlife. But until now clear evidence of their role in deep time has been lacking," lead author Enrique Penalver, of the Spanish Geological Survey, said in a University of Oxford news release.

The newly discovered tick was dubbed Deinocroton draculi, which translates to "Dracula's terrible tick." It's the oldest species of tick discovered so far, Penalver's group said.

And sorry, "Jurassic Park" fans, the tick is not likely to provide any dinosaur DNA. In fact, all attempts to extract DNA from specimens in amber have failed because DNA has such a short life, the researchers noted.

The feather the tick is grasping is similar in structure to modern-day bird feathers, the findings showed. That makes the fossil the first direct evidence of an early parasite-host relationship between ticks and feathered dinosaurs.

According to study co-author Ricardo Perez-de la Fuente, "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." Perez-de la Fuente is a research fellow at Oxford University Museum of Natural History.

"So 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, as these appeared much later in theropod evolution according to current fossil and molecular evidence," he explained in the news release.

More information

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more on ticks.

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Posted: December 2017


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