Oldest Mammal Blood Ever Found Preserved In Ancient Tick Fossil

Posted: Apr 4 2017, 1:22pm CDT | by , Updated: Apr 4 2017, 2:03pm CDT, in News | Latest Science News

 
Oldest Mammal Blood Ever Found Preserved in Ancient Tick Fossil
This tick found as a fossil in amber shows two small holes in its back, as if it were just picked off the animal it was feeding on. Credit: Photo by George Poinar, Jr., courtesy of Oregon State University
  • Age-Old Tick Feasted on the Blood of Earliest-Known Monkey

An age-old tick has been discovered that supposedly feasted on the blood of the earliest-known monkey.

Just bring to mind an ancient tick that sucked the blood of an early mammalian monkey in a mist-covered tropical jungle some 45 million years ago. Then this monkey notices the tick irritating its skin. It flicks it away with a hand and the tick lands in a sticky tree sap.

The sap forms a fossil called amber. The tick was thus preserved in a sort of locked time capsule. It was engorged with the monkey blood and literally was bursting at the seams with it.

This is the likely story behind the oldest of red blood cells from a mammal. The amber specimen of the tick was found in the Dominican Republic. The exact age of the fossilized amber probably lies between 15 million and 45 million years in the past.

It is indeed a possibility that the blood may have been sucked from a dog or lagomorph. Yet based on the dimensions of the RBCs, it is a monkey that is the most likely candidate for being the host to this ancient tick.

The two holes in the big fat engorged tick shows that some mammal picked it off its skin with a finger and opposable thumb and flicked it into the nearby sticky tree sap which solidified into amber over time.

This is very much like a monkey grooming itself. The specimen of tick holds the blood of an ancient monkey and it is the only oldest tick present today in fossilized form that holds a bacterial infection inside it.

This is the Babesia microti. This parasite spreads disease in humans and animals. In human beings, the disease is normally fatal. The form of the disease found in cows is called Texas Cattle Fever. The amber specimen showed that this tick had been infecting animals since millions of years.

The details shown by the microscope regarding this infectious agent are simple bedazzling. It represents the only fossils of this bacteria. This whole scenario seems a little like the way dinosaurs were resuscitated from DNA samples in the Steven Spielberg movie Jurassic Park.

It was similar research that took place in the 80s that inspired the novelist and filmographer Michael Crichton to use the ideas in his groundbreaking and blockbuster of a novel. Thus we learn that ancient insects can teach us modern humans a great many lessons regarding science and all things scientific.

This discovery is published in the Journal of Medical Entomology.

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