CORVALLIS, Ore. It takes a gutsy insect to sneak up on a huge dinosaur while it sleeps, crawl onto its soft underbelly and give it a bite that might have felt like a needle going in but giant "flea-like" animals, possibly the oldest of their type ever discovered, probably did just that.
And a few actually lived through the experience, based on the discovery by Chinese scientists of remarkable fossils of these creatures, just announced in Current Biology, a professional journal.
These flea-like animals, similar but not identical to modern fleas, were probably 10 times the size of a flea you might find crawling on the family dog with an extra-painful bite to match.
"These were insects much larger than modern fleas and from the size of their proboscis we can tell they would have been mean," said George Poinar, Jr., a professor emeritus of zoology at Oregon State University, who wrote a commentary on this find in the same journal.
"You wouldn't talk much about the good old days if you got bit by this insect," Poinar said. "It would have felt about like a hypodermic needle going in a flea shot, if not a flu shot. We can be thankful our modern fleas are not nearly this big."
Poinar, who is an international expert in ancient and extinct insect life forms, said it's possible that the soft-bodied, flea-like insects found in these fossils from Inner Mongolia are the evolutionary ancestors of modern fleas, but most likely they belong to a separate and now extinct lineage.
Called Pseudopulex jurassicus and Pseudopulex magnus, they had bodies that were more flat, like a bedbug or tick, and long claws that could reach over scales on the skin of dinosaurs so they could hold onto them tightly while sucking blood. Modern fleas are more laterally compressed and have shorter antennae, and are able to move quickly through the fur or feathers of their victims.
"These are really well-preserved fossils that
|Contact: George Poinar, Jr. |
Oregon State University