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Dinosaur Fleas

May 6, 2012

Adam had’em–and so apparently did the dinosaurs. Fossils of giant fleas and flea-like parasites dating to the Cretaceous and Jurassic periods in China are reported by George Poinar, long-time paleoentomologist and fossil DNA researcher; and by Tai-Ping Gao in Beijing. Poinar popularized the idea that fossil insects trapped in amber might have sucked dinosaur blood and could yield dino DNA, a key inspiration for Crichton’s Jurassic Park.

Now we have giant dino fleas, as described on NPR. Poinar thinks the fleas don’t look like jumpers, more like crawlers, with a giant proboscis that could jab through the dinosaur’s scales. We know that dinosaurs had lots of worms and other digestive parasites, whose reproductive forms could have come from the fleas.

Parasites are getting a lot of attention lately, especially since some of them may actually assist their hosts. But more often we hear of the horrific illnesses they cause, such as leishmaniasis and Chagas disease.

How much do you think parasites would have affected the dinosaurs?

  1. May 6, 2012 8:27 pm

    If mosquito-crazed caribou in the Arctic are any indication, pissed off T-Rex must have have been epic.

  2. heteromeles permalink
    May 7, 2012 11:26 am

    Well, unless that big flea was predating upon smaller fleas that sucked into dinosaurs, I’d say that dinosaurs were lousy. I should point out that some tyrannosauroids had feathers (cf:, so we can easily imagine the humorous CGI sequence of a fluffy tyrannosaur chasing fleas around its vent area, using those huge teeth it has.

    Or, more to the point, one can try to imagine how those enormous sauropods dealt with ectoparasites, since apart from rolling, they probably had no way to groom themselves.

    On a more interesting not, some of the more avian theropod dinosaurs seem to have had specialized front teeth, and one argument is that they were for grooming.

    • May 7, 2012 11:30 am

      Birds often pick parasites off large mammals, so I would expect their theropod ancestors did something similar.

    • heteromeles permalink
      May 7, 2012 7:49 pm

      Joan, I think in the original walking with dinosaurs, they even had a sequence of pterodactyls acting as ox-peckers on sauropods. It’s not a new idea. Of course, since ox-peckers are arguably vampiric hemophages, we can have a little fun with that idea (leathery winged flying din-suckers!). I’d also point out that these J-K fleas are big enough to have ectoparasites of their own, so the old verse may be true: “big fleas have smaller fleas, upon their backs to bite ’em. Smaller fleas have lesser fleas, and so ad infinitum.” The ecosystem on a sauropod back might have been rather lively and complex.

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