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Bizarre parasite from Jurassic found

June 25, 2014
Courtesy of the University of Bonn
and World Science staff

Re­search­ers from the Uni­vers­ity of Bonn and from Chi­na have dis­cov­ered a fos­sil fly lar­va with such a spec­tac­u­lar suck­ing ap­pa­rat­us, they have named it by the Chin­ese word for “bizarre.”

Around 165 mil­lion years ago, a spec­tac­u­lar par­a­site was at home in the fresh­wa­ter lakes of pre­s­ent-day In­ner Mon­go­lia in Chi­na, re­search­ers say. It was a ju­ve­nile fly with a thor­ax, or “ch­est,” formed en­tirely like a suck­ing plate. 

The head of Qiyia juras­sica is ti­ny com­pared to the body, with tube-shaped and piercer-like mouth­parts at the front. The thor­ax on­to which the ab­do­men with the caterpillar-like legs is con­nect­ed has been trans­formed in­to a suck­ing plate un­der­neath. (Cred­it: Yang Dinghua, Nan­jing)


With it, the an­i­mal could stick to sala­man­ders and suck their blood with its mouth­parts formed like a sting, ac­cord­ing to sci­en­tists. To date no in­sect is known with a si­m­i­lar de­sign. The in­terna­t­ional sci­en­tif­ic team is now pre­sent­ing its find­ings in the jour­nal eLIFE.

The par­a­site, a long fly lar­va around two cen­time­ters (a bit un­der an inch) long, had un­der­gone ex­treme changes over the course of ev­o­lu­tion, the re­search­ers said. The head is ti­ny in com­par­i­son to the body, tube-shaped with piercer-like mouth­parts at the front. The mid-body, or thor­ax, has been com­pletely trans­formed un­derneath in­to a gi­gantic suck­ing plate; the hind-body, or ab­do­men, has caterpillar-like legs. 

The re­search team be­lieves that this un­usu­al an­i­mal lived in a land­scape with vol­ca­noes and lakes what is now north­east­ern Chi­na around 165 mil­lion years ago. In this fresh wa­ter hab­i­tat, they say, the par­a­site crawled on­to pass­ing sala­man­ders, at­tached it­self with its suck­ing plate, and pen­e­trated the thin skin of the am­phib­ians in or­der to suck blood from them.

This re­con­struc­tion shows how sci­en­tists think the fly lar­vae ad­hered to the skin of the am­phib­i­an. (Cred­it: Yang Dinghua, Nan­jing )


“The par­a­site lived the life of Reil­ly,” said paleon­tologist Jes Rust from the Uni­vers­ity of Bonn. This is be­cause there were many sala­man­ders in the lakes, as fos­sil finds at the same loca­t­ion near Ningcheng in In­ner Mon­go­lia (Chi­na) have shown. “There sci­en­tists had al­so found around 300,000 di­verse and ex­cep­tion­ally pre­served fos­sil in­sects,” said the Chin­ese sci­ent­ist Bo Wang, a post­doc­tor­al re­searcher in paleon­tology at the Uni­vers­ity of Bonn.

The lar­va, which has re­ceived the sci­en­tif­ic name of Qiyia juras­si­ca, how­ev­er, was a quite un­ex­pected find. “Qiyia” in Chin­ese means “bizarre”; “jur­as­si­ca” refers to the Ju­ras­sic pe­ri­od to which the fos­sils be­long. A fine-grained mud­stone en­sured the good state of pre­serva­t­ion of the fos­sil.


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Researchers from the University of Bonn and from China have discovered a fossil fly larva with such a spectacular sucking apparatus, they have named it by the Chinese word for “bizarre.” Around 165 million years ago, a spectacular parasite was at home in the freshwater lakes of present-day Inner Mongolia in China, researchers say. It was a juvenile fly with a thorax, or “chest,” formed entirely like a sucking plate. With it, the animal could stick to salamanders and suck their blood with its mouthparts formed like a sting, according to scientists. To date no insect is known with a similar design. The international scientific team is now presenting its findings in the journal “eLIFE”. The parasite, a long fly larva around two centimeters (almost an inch) long, had undergone extreme changes over the course of evolution, the researchers said. The head is tiny in comparison to the body, tube-shaped with piercer-like mouthparts at the front. The mid-body, or thorax, has been completely transformed underneath into a gigantic sucking plate; the hind-body, or abdomen, has caterpillar-like legs. The research team believes that this unusual animal lived in a landscape with volcanoes and lakes what is now northeastern China around 165 million years ago. In this fresh water habitat, the parasite crawled onto passing salamanders, attached itself with its sucking plate, and penetrated the thin skin of the amphibians in order to suck blood from them. “The parasite lived the life of Reilly”, said paleontologist Jes Rust from the University of Bonn. This is because there were many salamanders in the lakes, as fossil finds at the same location near Ningcheng in Inner Mongolia (China) have shown. “There scientists had also found around 300,000 diverse and exceptionally preserved fossil insects,” said the Chinese scientist Bo Wang, who is researching in paleontology at the University of Bonn as a postdoctoral researcher. The spectacular fly larva, which has received the scientific name of “Qiyia jurassica”, however, was a quite unexpected find. “Qiyia” in Chinese means “bizarre”; “jurassica” refers to the Jurassic period to which the fossils belong. A fine-grained mudstone ensured the good state of preservation of the fossil.