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Tick's 'worst day ever' frozen in amber for 100 million years

A tick met a sprightly spider, and the rest is history.

Two views of the tick, wrapped in spider silk and preserved in amber.
University of Kansas

This is a story of life and death, of a struggle ultimately lost. It's the story of an ancient tick's terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day. And the drama's all captured in amber.

Around 100 million years ago, during the Cretaceous, a tick wandered into a spider web. It tried to break free, but the web's owner caught up to it and wrapped it up in a bundle of silk. As if that wasn't bad enough, a drop of amber fell on the tick, encasing it for modern science to discover all these years later.

A Burmese amber collector found the specimen in Myanmar and passed it on to a research team that included scientist Paul Selden at the University of Kansas. The university described the tick's unfortunate fate as a "primordial worst-day-ever" in a release this week.

"We're not sure if the spider wrapped it in order to eat it later or if it was to get it out of the way and stop it from wriggling and destroying its web," says Selden, who describes the find as rare.

The research team published a description of the tick and its sticky predicament in the journal Cretaceous Research (PDF link)

The paper says the find is "unique in the fossil record and and reveals that at least some spiders occasionally caught ticks during the mid-Cretaceous."

Selden's fascination with the amber piece centers around the story it tells of life in the Cretaceous. "Rather than being the oldest thing or the biggest thing," he says, "it's nice to be able to preserve some animal interaction and show it was a living ecosystem."