A team at Oregon State University have found a parasitic tick containing the oldest mammal blood ever found embalmed in amber with an almost perfect laboratory-ready appearance.
And they say some things are too good to be true.
Now monkey business isn’t normally encouraged in science, but it has successfully resulted in one of the biggest, and most impressive, fossil discoveries in recent years.
Think we’re joking? Well around 20-30 million years ago, a pair of monkeys in the jungles of, what is now, the Dominican Republic, were grooming each other and removing ticks from their fur.
One of these ticks, which was engorged with blood from the mammal, was then caught in tree sap while it still had the blood in its abdomen, as well as leaking out through two tiny puncture holes in its back.
This rather fortunate set of conditions (fortunate for scientists, not for the tick) meant that when the sap trapped the vampire-arachnid and later fossilised into amber, it created the first ever set of fossilized red blood cells known to humans.
And not only that but the parasites were different enough in texture and density to perfectly stand out within the red blood cells in the natural embalming process.
In fact the team at Oregon State University said that the sample was so perfect it “appears to have been prepared for display in a laboratory”.
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Writing in the journal of Medical Entomology, George Poinar Junior, who took part in the study, said: “This [fossil] would be consistent with the grooming behavior of monkeys that we know lived at that time in this region. The fossilized blood cells, infected with these parasites, are simply amazing in their detail.”
Not only that, but the blood also contained the only known evidence of a parasite, which still exists today, Babesia Microti, which infects the blood cells of humans and animals.
“This parasite was clearly around millions of years before humans, and appears to have evolved alongside primates, among other hosts,” said Poinar.
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