Bizarre parasite from Jurassic found
June 25, 2014
Courtesy of the University of Bonn and World Science staff
Researchers from the University of Bonn and from China have discovered a fossil fly larva with such a spectacular sucking apparatus, they have named it by the Chinese word for “bizarre.”
Around 165 million years ago, a spectacular parasite was at home in the freshwater lakes of present-day Inner Mongolia in China, researchers say. It was a juvenile fly with a thorax, or “chest,” formed entirely like a sucking plate.
With it, the animal could stick to salamanders and suck their blood with its mouthparts formed like a sting, according to scientists. To date no insect is known with a similar design. The international scientific team is now presenting its findings in the journal eLIFE.
The parasite, a long fly larva around two centimeters (a bit under an inch) long, had undergone extreme changes over the course of evolution, the researchers said. The head is tiny in comparison to the body, tube-shaped with piercer-like mouthparts at the front. The mid-body, or thorax, has been completely transformed underneath into a gigantic sucking plate; the hind-body, or abdomen, has caterpillar-like legs.
The research team believes that this unusual animal lived in a landscape with volcanoes and lakes what is now northeastern China around 165 million years ago. In this fresh water habitat, they say, the parasite crawled onto passing salamanders, attached itself with its sucking plate, and penetrated the thin skin of the amphibians in order to suck blood from them.
“The parasite lived the life of Reilly,” said paleontologist Jes Rust from the University of Bonn. This is because there were many salamanders in the lakes, as fossil finds at the same location near Ningcheng in Inner Mongolia (China) have shown. “There scientists had also found around 300,000 diverse and exceptionally preserved fossil insects,” said the Chinese scientist Bo Wang, a postdoctoral researcher in paleontology at the University of Bonn.
The larva, which has received the scientific name of Qiyia jurassica, however, was a quite unexpected find. “Qiyia” in Chinese means “bizarre”; “jurassica” refers to the Jurassic period to which the fossils belong. A fine-grained mudstone ensured the good state of preservation of the fossil.