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'Giant flea fed on dinosaur blood like mosquitoes'

United States America,Science/Tech, Wed, 02 May 2012 IANS

Washington, May 2 (IANS) A giant "flea-like" insect, possibly the oldest of its kind, sneaked up on a sleeping dinosaur and bit it on its soft underbelly to feed on its blood, much like a mosquito, says a researcher.

 

These insects, 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. Chinese scientists have stumbled on remarkable fossils of these creatures.

 

"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., professor emeritus of zoology at the Oregon State University, the journal Current Biology reports.

 

"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, according to an Oregon statement.

 

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.

 

"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.

 

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

 


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