It’s quite possible that dinosaurs were swatting fleas in their ancient habitats just as we do today (although they probably used an enormous tail rather than slapping hands). Researchers in China have discovered two new species of soft-bodied, flea-like insects that lived 165 to 125 million years ago in Mongolia. Pseudopulex magnus, which lived 145 to 100 million years ago, and Pseudopulex jurassicus, which lived 176 to 161 million years ago, look like larger, flatter versions of the modern flea. Whether or not they are directly related to modern fleas is still questionable, but these insects did have many similarities to the pesky bugs that swarm around today. However, the interesting, and perhaps frightening, find is in the ways that they differ from today’s fleas. Pseudopulex jurassicus and P. magnus each sported a longer blood-sucking proboscis that could reach deeper into the skin of their victims. They also had longer, serrated claws. Each could reach up to 2.1 centimeters (nearly one inch) long, compared to today’s fleas at only 1.5 to 3.3 millimeters (less than 1/8 inch). Scientists from the Chinese Academy of Sciences, the University of Kansas, and the Museum National d’Histoire Naturelle in Paris think that the ancient fleas could have used their vicious claws and mouthparts to feed on tougher-skinned animals or those with thick fur or feathers. They could have even sucked the blood of dinosaurs.

Discover more at ScienceNews.

Access the original study in the journal Current Biology.

Read more about modern fleas at the University of Florida website.

Published On: May 8, 2012

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