Monster fleas sucked the blood of Jurassic dinosaurs

It seems that dinosaurs weren’t the only scary monsters of the Jurassic period as newly-discovered fossils reveal giant blood-sucking fleas afflicted the prehistoric world.

Scientists say that the 2cm-long parasites, which roamed the planet between the Middle Jurassic and Lower Cretaceous, were up to four times larger than their descendants - the fleas we see today.

Nine perfectly preserved fossils were unearthed from 165-million-year-old Jurassic deposits in Daohugou, northeast China, and the 125-million-year-old Cretaceous strata at Huangbanjigou, China.

A female (left) and a male (right) flea from the Middle Jurassic period. Photo credit: AFP

The female fleas were a huge 20mm in length, while the slightly smaller males still measured in at 15mm.

The biggest fleas to be found today have a maximum length of 5mm.

While they didn’t have wings and weren’t able to jump, their remains show how they were specially adapted to the feed off their prey, said the study published in the ‘Nature’ journal.

 


The terrifying critters had ‘powerful weaponry’, it said,  including sharp claws on their legs and spines on their bodies to latch on to the feathers or fur of their victims.

They also had oversized bloodsucking ‘siphon-like’ mouth parts to attack the hides of dinosaurs and feed on their blood.

André Nel, palaeontologist at the National Museum of Natural History in Paris, who led the research, said: “They were not jumping insects, their biology is very different. They were probably creeping between the feathers or the fur of the animals they came across.”

Another team researcher, Michael Engel, said: “The mouthparts are certainly overkill for piercing the hides of early mammals and birds.  It really appears as though they were specialised for working their way into some heavy hides, such as those on dinosaurs.”


Scientists believe once the dinosaurs became extinct the mega nippers instead snacked off smaller mammals and birds.
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