The giant dinosaurs that roamed the world some 150 million years ago shared the planet with equally daunting parasites: blood-gobbling fleas that were up two centimetres long.
This according to a recent article in Nature, the international weekly journal of science.
(Long, serrated piercing tubes and grasping claws suggest adaptation to feed on hairy animals or feathered dinosaurs)
The article reports on the work of Chinese and French palaeontologists, who have pored over nine extraordinary fossils unearthed from Inner Mongolia and Liaoning province.
The ancient fleas measured just over 20 millimetres long (just over 3/4 inches) for females, and nearly 15 millimetres (over 1/2 an inch) in males, compared to a maximum of 5 millimetres for today’s fleas.
(a, 154244a, female, imprint. b, 154244b, counter-imprint of a. c, 154245, male. Scale bars, 2 mm.)
The dino-era fleas were wingless and, unlike their counterparts today, could not jump and had comparatively small mouths, says the study.
But for all that, they were supremely adapted to their environmental niche.
They had claws which enabled them to grip onto hairy or feathered reptilians, whose hide was then pierced with a long, serrated “siphon” to suck out a blood meal.
The fleas were so successful that when the dinosaurs were wiped out some 65 million years ago – an extinction linked to a collision with Earth by a space rock – they smoothly moved onto mammals and birds, sizing down in the process.
The study was conducted by Andre Nel of France’s National Museum of Natural History in Paris, along with paleontologists Diying Huang, Michael S. Engel and Chenyang Cai.