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Giant Jurassic flea fossils discovered in China

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Ancient fleas whose fossils were discovered in China may have fed on dinosaurs like this one.

Credit:

Spencer Platt

Even dinosaurs had fleas, it seems. 

Scientists in China have discovered fossils of giant fleas that date back to 125 million to 165 million years ago, said Diying Huang of the Nanjing Institute of Geology and Paleontology, the Associated Press reported

Michael Engel, a palaeoentomologist at the University of Kansas in Lawrence, and his colleagues studied nine flea specimens from two sites in China, and found them to be very different — and much, much larger — than the fleas we know today.

“These were hefty insects as far as fleas are concerned,” said Engel, whose team's findings are published in Nature journal

The oversized bugs had long, serrated tubes for piercing dinosaur hides and sucking blood, the Guardian reported, and used spines and sharp claws to fasten themselved to the fur and feathers of their prey. The fleas also grew to between five and ten times the size of the modern flea, though they had not yet evolved specialized legs for jumping, according to the Guardian.

“They probably began to reduce their antennae, eyes and wings, and to develop legs adapted for grasping on the bases of the feathers or fur,” said Andre Nels, who led the study, Discover Magazine reported

Scientists estimate that about eight or more of today's fleas would fit on the back of their ancestor, the AP reported. 

"It was a big critter," Engel said. "I can't even imagine coming home and finding my miniature schnauzer with one or more of these things crawling around on it."

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