In 1993, the world was electrified by the release of the first Jurassic Park movie. The premise was that dinosaurs had been recreated from DNA recovered from mosquitoes trapped in amber. There are many flaws in such a scenario, not the least of which was the fact that Dominican amber, the source of the mosquitoes in the movie, is too young to contain dinosaur DNA.
Fast forward to 2017 and news that blood-filled ticks had been recovered from the much older Myanmar amber reignited hope that we just might get some dino DNA. Alas, it was not to be. DNA is a very fragile molecule and breaks down rapidly after an animal dies. Current estimates are that the most ancient DNA we can ever hope to recover is perhaps just a few tens of thousands of years old – a far cry from the 65 million years needed for dinosaur material.
But the amber fossil ticks are quite remarkable in their own right. One is tangled in a feather which possibly belonged to a dinosaur. Another is wrapped in a tiny death shroud of spider silk. And one was swollen to eight times its normal size, engorged with blood.
Several of the ticks have fine hairs from carpet beetles attached to them. The beetles are known to inhabit bird nests, in which they feed on the feathers and skin of chicks. Finding their defensive spiky hairs indicates that the ticks themselves had also been in nests just before they became entombed in the tree sap that became their amber coffins.
A tick trapped in amber, and entangled in a feather that might well have belonged to a dinosaur.