It's starting to sound a lot like "Jurassic Park" around here. An international team of scientists published a study Tuesday detailing the discovery of ticks in 99-million-year-old amber that suggests the parasites had a taste for dinosaur blood.
The study covers several examples of ticks in amber, including an extinct species of tick called Deinocroton draculi ("Dracula's terrible tick"), fittingly named for Bram Stoker's blood-feasting vampire.
Perhaps the most exciting specimen is a tick grasping a dinosaur feather found in Burmese amber dating to the Cretaceous period. The University of Oxford calls this the "first direct fossil evidence of ticks parasitizing dinosaurs."
The scientists aren't sure exactly what kind of dinosaur the feather belonged to, but the age of the fossil means it couldn't belong to a modern bird. The team also details another tick in amber found preserved with its body engorged with blood, which adds to the evidence the parasites likely snacked on dinosaurs of the time period. The study suggests ticks may have lived in dinosaur nests.
"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," says lead author Enrique Peñalver of the Spanish Geological Survey.
The team published its findings online in the journal Nature Communications with the title "parasitised feathered dinosaurs as revealed by Cretaceous amber assemblages."
Just don't expect scientists to clone any dinosaurs using blood from ticks trapped in amber. DNA degrades too fast for that to be anything but a fantasy.