Scientists discover fossil of blood-sucking parasite in China

In a bizarre find, scientists from the University of Bonn and from China have discovered an unusual aquatic parasite- the fossil remains of fly larvae with an amazing sucking tool, which lived about 165 million years ago.

Last Updated: Jun 25, 2014, 19:22 PM IST

Zee Media Bureau

London: In a bizarre find, scientists from the University of Bonn and from China have discovered an unusual aquatic parasite- the fossil remains of fly larvae with an amazing sucking tool, which lived about 165 million years ago.

The international team identified the striking fly larva fossil in the freshwater lakes in what is now Inner Mongolia, China.
Researchers believe that the parasite, an elongate fly larva around two centimeters long, had undergone extreme changes over the course of evolution: The head is tiny in comparison to the body, tube-shaped with piercer-like mouthparts at the front. The mid-body (thorax) has been completely transformed underneath into a gigantic sucking plate; the hind-body (abdomen) has caterpillar-like legs.

The research team also believe that this unusual animal is a parasite which lived in a landscape with volcanoes and lakes what is now northeastern China, and 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 spectacular fly larva, has received the scientific name of `Qiyia jurassica`, as `Qiyia` in Chinese means `bizarre` while `jurassica` refers to the Jurassic period to which the fossils belong.

“The parasite lived the life of Reilly”, as there were many salamanders in the lakes, as fossil finds at the same location near Ningcheng in Inner Mongolia (China) have shown, said Professor Jes Rust from the University of Bonn.
“No insect exists today with a comparable body shape”, said Dr Bo Wang, who is researching in palaeontology at the University of Bonn, adding that the bizarre larva from the Jurassic has remained so well-preserved to the present day was partly due to the fine-grained mudstone in which the animals were embedded.

For the international team of scientists from the University of Bonn, the Linyi University (China), the Nanjing Institute of Geology and Palaeontology ( China), the University of Kansas (USA) and the Natural History Museum in London (England), the insect larva is a spectacular find.

As unpleasant as the parasites were for the salamanders, their deaths were not caused by the fly larvae.

A parasite only sometimes kills its host when it has achieved its goal, for example, reproduction or feeding, Dr Wappler of the Steinmann-Institut of the University of Bonn, explained.

If Qiyia jurassica had passed through the larval stage, it would have grown into an adult insect after completing metamorphosis.

The scientists don`t yet have enough information to speculate as to what the adult would have looked like, and how it might have lived.

The finding is presented in the journal eLIFE.

(With Agency Inputs)

Photo Credit: Yang Dinghua, Nanjing