TICKS

Cosmos - - Trapped In Amber -

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.

CREDIT: EN­RIQUE PEÑALVER ( IGME, SPAIN)

A tick trapped in am­ber, and en­tan­gled in a feather that might well have be­longed to a di­nosaur.

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