Researchers working with ancient amber thought to be nearly 100 million years old have discovered something that sounds like the beginning of a new chapter in the Jurassic Park franchise: a host of ticks which appear to have feasted on dinosaur blood. The ticks, which have been identified as two distinct species, may have offered hope of dinosaur reincarnation if we were living in a sci-fi novel, but unfortunately things are a bit different here in reality.
The ticks, one of which the scientists note is swollen over eight times its normal size due to a belly heavy with dinosaur blood, have been trapped in their amber prisons for far too long to yield anything resembling usable DNA. However, the discovery is still significant for a number of other reasons, including what was found preserved alongside the ticks themselves.
The tiny blood-sucking parasites the researchers came across were found mixed in with feathers, which not only provides science with yet more evidence of feathered dinosaurs, but also helps to draw some very striking parallels between modern wildlife and that which existed 100 million years ago. The new research was published in Nature Communications.
“Ticks are infamous blood-sucking, parasitic organisms, having a tremendous impact on the health of humans, livestock, pets, and even wildlife, but until now clear evidence of their role in deep time has been lacking,” lead author Enrique Peñalver explains.
This new finding helps cement the presence of feathered dinosaurs in the mid Cretaceous period, as researchers are positive that modern birds simply didn’t exist at that point in history. Past discoveries have revealed that both ground-dwelling dinosaurs as well as flying ones had developed feathers by this point in time, but exactly what species these feathers came from remains unclear.
Unfortunately for Jurassic Park fans, these tiny parasites likely won’t be any help in resurrecting the ancient beasts due to the degradation of any DNA that they once held. Unlike it is portrayed in movies, DNA doesn’t just last forever, even when it’s sealed tightly in an amber shell. Over time, the molecules break down and because much less friendly to work with. At some point in the future the technology may exist to extra some sort of usable genetic material from preserved remains such as this, but we’re simply not there yet.