The curious collection of a slightly mad scientist
It takes a gutsy insect to sneak up on a huge dinosaur while it sleeps, crawl onto its soft underbelly and give it a bite that might have felt like a needle going in — but giant “flea-like” animals, possibly the oldest of their type ever discovered, probably did just that.
And a few actually lived through the experience, based on the discovery by Chinese scientists of remarkable fossils of these creatures, just announced in Current Biology, a professional journal.
These flea-like animals, 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.
“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., a professor emeritus of zoology at Oregon State University, who wrote a commentary on this find in the same journal. …
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. Modern fleas are more laterally compressed and have shorter antennae, and are able to move quickly through the fur or feathers of their victims.
“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.