First Fossil of Blood-Filled Mosquito Discovered

Fossil mosquito

Through a series of events that scientists themselves admit was “extremely improbable,” a mosquito that feasted on the blood of Eocene animals some 46 million years ago managed to die and become trapped in sediment, but remain in tact, all while carrying a belly full of blood — its last meal.

The result, recently discovered in some oil shale from northwestern Montana, is the first fossil of a mosquito found still engorged with ancient blood.

The discovery was announced in this week’s issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

According to the lead researcher of the study, Smithsonian Institution paleontologist Dale Greenwalt, this is only the fifth instance of blood-eating, or hematophagy, by any insect to be revealed in the fossil record, and it’s the first in a mosquito with traces of blood that his team calls “incontrovertible.”

Most fossils of blood-eating insects that have been found are of midges, a kind of biting fly, trapped in amber, the team points out. But since mosquitoes typically prefer open habitats near water, rather than forests full of sap-bearing trees, finding preserved remains of mosquitoes has been rare.

Fossil mosquito
This fossil mosquito, found in oil shale in northwestern Montana, is the first to be discovered with the remains of a blood meal still in its abdomen (PNAS/Greenwalt et al.)

In addition, the scientists note, not all species of mosquito eat blood, and even in those that do, it’s only the females that partake.

Given all of these factors, Greenwalt’s team writes, “it is not surprising that a fossil of a blood-engorged mosquito has not been described [before]; this despite the popular misconception of dinosaur DNA recovery from blood-engorged mosquitoes in amber popularized by the 1993 movie Jurassic Park.”

Since they bring that up, it’s worth pointing out that the mosquito fossil dates to the Middle Eocene, some 19 million years after non-avian dinosaurs went extinct. [Learn about a new-found fossil that reveals the ties between dinosaurs and birds: “‘Unusual’ Fossil Egg Reveals Evolutionary Link Between Dinosaurs and Birds“]

Plus, DNA molecules are too complex and fragile to survive fossilization, the team says, so it’s impossible to tell what kind of animal the Montana mosquito took its final meal from.

But among the discoveries that this find has made possible is that other large molecules — like those large enough to denote the presence of blood — can still survive fossilization.

The team decided to investigate the fossil more closely after noticing the insect’s dark, distended abdomen, appearing much like a modern mosquito after drinking a big blood meal.

Tests of the abdomen revealed very high levels of iron ions, a mineral in which animal blood is rich.

So the team analyzed the sample using mass spectroscopy to get a more precise chemical makeup of the insect’s gut contents.

They found telltale organic compounds that are the “fingerprints” of a substance called heme, the molecule that allows hemoglobin in blood to carry oxygen, and that gives blood its red color.

The presence of these compounds, they say, is “incontrovertible documentation” of heme, and therefore likely hemoglobin, in the insect.

In all, the scientists conclude, the unique preservation of this well-fed mosquito — and all of the data it has given up so far — were the fortunate results of “an extremely improbable event.”

“The insect had to take a blood meal, be blown to the water’s surface, and sink to the bottom of a pond or similar lacustrine [lake-like] structure to be quickly embedded in fine anaerobic sediment,” they write, “all without disruption of its fragile distended blood-filled abdomen.”

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ResearchBlogging.org

 

Dale E. Greenwalt, Yulia S. Gorevab, Sandra M. Siljeströmb, Tim Roseb, & Ralph E. Harbache (2013). Hemoglobin-derived porphyrins preserved in a Middle Eocene blood-engorged mosquito Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1310885110

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Discussion

  1. […] to Western Digs, this is the first blood-filled ancient fossilized mosquito ever […]

  2. […] to Western Digs, this is the first blood-filled ancient fossilized mosquito ever […]

  3. […] to Western Digs, this is the first blood-filled ancient fossilized mosquito ever […]

  4. […] to Western Digs, this is the first blood-filled ancient fossilized mosquito ever […]

  5. […] to Western Digs, this is the first blood-filled ancient fossilized mosquito ever […]

  6. […] to Western Digs, this is the first blood-filled ancient fossilized mosquito ever […]

  7. […] to Western Digs, this is the first blood-filled ancient fossilized mosquito ever […]

  8. […] to Western Digs, this is the first blood-filled ancient fossilized mosquito ever […]

  9. […] to Western Digs, this is the first blood-filled ancient fossilized mosquito ever […]

  10. […] to Western Digs, this is the first blood-filled ancient fossilized mosquito ever […]

  11. […] to Western Digs, this is the first blood-filled ancient fossilized mosquito ever […]

  12. Marcus

    No dinosaurs, no fun! Everyones waiting for the real Jurassic Park.

  13. untasered

    “intact” not “in tact”

  14. […] to Western Digs, this is the first blood-filled ancient fossilized mosquito ever […]

  15. James

    One can only wonder what other amazing fossils remain to be discovered.

  16. Michael Alter

    I have a feeling this is going to be a “science or fiction” question on this weeks skeptics guide to the universe podcast.

  17. […] First Fossil of Blood-Filled Mosquito Discovered | Western Digs Quote: […]

  18. […] Read More: First Fossil of Blood-Filled Mosquito Discovered […]

  19. Kevin

    This is spine-tingling stuff.
    What a pity we can’t yet be forensic enough to discover from what creature the last meal was taken.

    1. A, G. Gelbert

      And if there is blood, there are heme groups. If there are heme groups, there are carbon atoms as well as iron and oxygen. That means they are supposed to run a C-14 test on it. What do they do if that blood has any C-14 (meaning that mosquito is 100,000 years old or less) in it?

      Back to the geologic column strata dating board? No way! C-14 is more accurate than any other dating method even though it is only good for a maximum of 100,000 years or so.

      Spine tingling indeed. I always wondered why mosquitos, allegedly hundreds of millions of years old, never seem to have “evolved” (the fossilized ones are identical to “modern” ones).

      The answer may be in that mosquito gut blood. But science may not want to go there…

      Remember, the cover up is ALWAYS worse than the crime.

  20. […] to Western Digs , this is the first blood-filled ancient fossilized mosquito ever […]

  21. […] First Fossil of Blood-Filled Mosquito Discovered (westerndigs.org) […]

  22. Patrik

    FINALLY!!

  23. […] to Western Digs, this is the first blood-filled ancient fossilized mosquito ever […]

  24. […] PNAS, via Western Digs […]

  25. […] PNAS, via Western Digs […]

  26. […] PNAS, via Western Digs […]

  27. […] PNAS, via Western Digs […]

  28. […] PNAS, via Western Digs […]

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  30. […] PNAS, via Western Digs […]

  31. […] PNAS, via Western Digs […]

  32. […] to Western Digs, this is the first blood-filled ancient fossilized mosquito ever […]

  33. […] PNAS, via Western Digs […]

  34. […] PNAS, via Western Digs […]

  35. […] PNAS, via Western Digs […]

  36. […] First Fossil of Blood-Filled Mosquito Discovered (westerndigs.org) […]

  37. Aneeq

    Amazing!
    What i would love in stories like these is, to mention the size of the, in this case, mosquito

  38. […] fósiles de este tipo, lo cierto es que no es así. Los investigadores hallaron en Montana el primer mosquito conservado de esta antigüedad, a pesar de que anteriormente sí se habían observado otro tipo de […]

  39. […] fósiles de este tipo, lo cierto es que no es así. Los investigadores hallaron en Montana el primer mosquito conservado de esta antigüedad, a pesar de que anteriormente sí se habían observado otro tipo de […]

  40. […] be easy to find fossils like this, the truth is that it is not. In Montana, researchers found the first preserved mosquito from such a remote age, despite other kinds of insects having been […]

  41. […] in terms of journalistic integrity. Fortunately, the universe seems to have evened out after I read this article about the discovery of the first blood-filled fossil of a […]

  42. […] First Fossil of Blood-Filled Mosquito Discovered (westerndigs.org) […]

  43. BongoBob

    Was it possible to tell if the red blood cells were nucleared?

  44. BongoBob

    I meant nucleated.

  45. […] Fossil of Blood-Filled Mosquito Discovered http://dev.westerndigs.org/first-fossil-of-blood-engorged-mosquito-discovered/ “Through a series of events that scientists themselves admit was “extremely […]

  46. jahmir

    will the scientists who study the mosquito take out its blood and bring the Eocene animals back to life?

  47. tileman

    46 million years and a simple mosquito hasn’t noticeably changed at all…along with thousands of even older and less complex organisms. While man, far more complex, adaptable, (and less tinkerable without severe consequences), supposedly jumped species in an increasing number of forms from some obscure “Eve” from one place in Africa in the space of a few hundred thousand years?
    There isn’t even the “junk DNA” myth to vaguely insinuate as being indicative of anything since ENCODE in 2013.

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