Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Jurassic pain: Giant 'flea-like' insects plagued dinosaurs 165 million years ago

Date:
May 1, 2012
Source:
Oregon State University
Summary:
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.

This ancient "flea-like" insect, Pseudopulex jurassicus, lived 165 million years ago. It used a long proboscis to feed on the blood of dinosaurs, with a bite that would have been unusually painful.
Credit: Illustration by Wang Cheng, courtesy of Oregon State University

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 give us another glimpse of life into the really distant past, the Cretaceous and Jurassic," said Poinar, who has also studied "younger" fleas from 40-50 million years ago preserved in amber.

All true fleas are adapted to feeding on warm-blooded vertebrates, Poinar said, and today 94 percent of the 2,300 known species attack mammals, while the remainder feed on birds. But the unusual characteristics and abilities of the flea-like animals found in these fossils lead scientists to believe their prey were some of the biggest kids on the block -- dinosaurs in which they could have fed on the softer skin between scales.

Modern fleas, the report noted, have done plenty of damage. Hardly a dog or cat alive has escaped their attack, and they brought humankind such diseases as bubonic plague, which has killed 75 million people.

But their bite itself, at least, didn't feel like a needle going in, by an insect that wasn't even afraid of a dinosaur.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Oregon State University. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. GeorgeO. Poinar. Palaeontology: The 165-Million-Year Itch. Current Biology, 2012; 22 (8): R278 DOI: 10.1016/j.cub.2012.03.014

Cite This Page:

Oregon State University. "Jurassic pain: Giant 'flea-like' insects plagued dinosaurs 165 million years ago." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 1 May 2012. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/05/120501162730.htm>.
Oregon State University. (2012, May 1). Jurassic pain: Giant 'flea-like' insects plagued dinosaurs 165 million years ago. ScienceDaily. Retrieved October 21, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/05/120501162730.htm
Oregon State University. "Jurassic pain: Giant 'flea-like' insects plagued dinosaurs 165 million years ago." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/05/120501162730.htm (accessed October 21, 2014).

Share This



More Plants & Animals News

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

'Cadaver Dog' Sniffs out Human Remains

'Cadaver Dog' Sniffs out Human Remains

AP (Oct. 21, 2014) Where's a body buried? Buster's nose can often tell you. He's a cadaver dog, specially trained to find human remains and increasingly being used by law enforcement and accepted in courts. These dogs are helping solve even decades-old mysteries. (Oct. 21) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
White Lion Cubs Born in Belgrade Zoo

White Lion Cubs Born in Belgrade Zoo

AFP (Oct. 20, 2014) Two white lion cubs, an extremely rare subspecies of the African lion, were recently born at Belgrade Zoo. They are being bottle fed by zoo keepers after they were rejected by their mother after birth. Duration: 00:42 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Traditional Farming Methods Gaining Ground in Mali

Traditional Farming Methods Gaining Ground in Mali

AFP (Oct. 20, 2014) He is leading a one man agricultural revolution in Mali - Oumar Diatabe uses traditional farming methods to get the most out of his land and is teaching others across the country how to do the same. Duration: 01:44 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Goliath Spider Will Give You Nightmares

Goliath Spider Will Give You Nightmares

Buzz60 (Oct. 20, 2014) An entomologist stumbled upon a South American Goliath Birdeater. With a name like that, you know it's a terrifying creepy crawler. Sean Dowling (@SeanDowlingTV) has the details. Video provided by Buzz60
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:

Strange & Offbeat Stories


Plants & Animals

Earth & Climate

Fossils & Ruins

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins