Original URL: http://www.theregister.co.uk/2012/03/01/china_blood_sucking_fleas/

GIANT blood-guzzling Jurassic fleas ambushed dino prey

Boffins uncover critters armed with piercing straws

By Phil Muncaster

Posted in Science, 1st March 2012 10:24 GMT

Hollywood producers will be on high alert for the next Jurassic Park blockbuster script after boffins found fossils of giant prehistoric fleas. The monster bloodsuckers were thought to have used ruggedised straw-like mouths to prey on dinosaurs.

In a study published on science journal Nature on Wednesday, University of Kansas palaeoentomologist Michael Engel and colleagues Diying Huang, Chenyang Cai, Hao Wu and André Nel explain how the discovery sheds light on the little-known origins of today’s fleas.

The perfectly preserved fossils were found in the 165-million-year-old Jurassic deposits in Daohugou, northeast China, and the 125-million-year-old Cretaceous strata at Huangbanjigou, China. The rocks reveal fleas of up to 2cm - double the size of today’s pesky critters - according to a report.

More interestingly they differ in not having the same highly developed jumping hind legs of their modern descendants and are therefore likely to have had to ambush their prey instead of jumping relatively long distances to attach themselves onto a victim.

In terms of what this prey was, the stone-collecting boffins believe the fleas’ chops offer up the biggest clue – described as “stout and elongate sucking siphons”.

“The mouthparts are certainly overkill for piercing the hides of early mammals and birds,” Engel told Nature. “It really appears as though they were specialised for working their way into some heavy hides, such as those on dinosaurs.”

The research goes further to suggest these dinosaurs were of the “hairy or feathered” variety, and that the fleas gravitated towards mammals and birds later in the Cenozoic era. ®