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Art & Museums

Does tick fossil hold blood from prehistoric dinosaur?

Mary Pickels
| Friday, Dec. 15, 2017, 11:00 a.m.
Top view of the 100 million-year-old Deinocroton tick from Myanmar that may contain remnants of blood, possibly dinosaur blood.
Scott Anderson
Top view of the 100 million-year-old Deinocroton tick from Myanmar that may contain remnants of blood, possibly dinosaur blood.

The receipt of amber tick fossils has Carnegie Museum of Natural History geologist Albert Kollar excited, anticipating potential evidence that the bugs may have fed on feathered dinosaurs.

According to a news release, the prehistoric Deinocroton draculi (Dracula's terrible tick) specimens include one engorged in blood, which researchers may be able to identify as having come from a dinosaur.

Kollar, the museum's section of invertebrate paleontology collection manager, will add the donated fossils to the Oakland museum. They are expected to eventually be put on public display, according to a museum blog.

Kollar has done research and field work around the U.S. and other countries.

"Fossil(s) like these are rare in the fossil record. The addition of Cretaceous ticks associated with feather dinosaurs adds an important group of specimens into the (museum's) invertebrate paleontology collection," he says in the release.

The fossils come from the Southeast Asian nation of Myanmar, where Spanish researchers from the Instituto Geologico y Minero de Espana in Madrid discovered ticks encased in Burmese amber from the middle Cretaceous Period — about 100 million years ago.

The new Dracula species was among their discoveries.

And one of those specimens is so engorged with blood it's about eight times larger than its fellow ticks, the release states.

In addition, the scientists discovered specialized skin-beetle larvae attached to the legs of two Dracula ticks. As those larva feed on tough organic matter like skin, hair, and feathers, the researchers suspect feathered dinosaurs were a food source for these ticks.

The fossils were found in amber, fossilized tree resin that eventually hardens into plastic. But extracting dinosaur DNA from amber has — up until this possibility — happened only in the movie "Jurassic Park."

Scott Anderson, a Pittsburgh-area geologist and amber collector, and co-author of the study, published in Nature Communications, donated the specimens.

Details: 412-622-3131 or carnegiemnh.org.

Mary Pickels is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach her at 724-836-5401 or mpickels@tribweb.com or via Twitter @MaryPickels.

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