STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
Now we have news on the life of dinosaurs. Like in "Jurassic Park," scientists found specimens encased in amber showing that ticks sucked dinosaurs' blood. Here's NPR's Rebecca Hersher.
REBECCA HERSHER, BYLINE: The amber is 99 million years old. That's from the Cretaceous Period when T. rex was around. Ricardo Perez-de la Fuente is the main author of the new study. I talked to him over skype.
RICARDO PEREZ-DE LA FUENTE: You know, amber is fossilized resin.
HERSHER: Resin is like sap but thicker. Critters can get stuck in it and preserved.
PEREZ-DE LA FUENTE: And because of that, can actually preserve interactions between organisms.
HERSHER: Interactions like a tick grabbing onto its host. For this study, published on Tuesday in the journal Nature Communications, the team analyzed multiple ticks trapped in amber.
PEREZ-DE LA FUENTE: We studied one tick that is actually engorged by blood.
HERSHER: Like, it had just eaten a big meal before it was entombed. The most impressive of the ticks was one that wasn't alone in its piece of amber. There was a feather trapped along with it, and that feather belonged to a dinosaur.
PEREZ-DE LA FUENTE: The tick grasping the feather - that was actually very surprising. Yeah (laughter) that was something like, oh, wow, really (laughter)?
HERSHER: Researchers also found tiny hairs on some of the ticks that seem to have come from some sort of nest. Together, the evidence suggests that ticks hung out in dino nests and fed on the blood of their feathery inhabitants, which is new. Ticks are very old creatures, and people who study them have long wondered what their ancient counterparts ate. It appears that feathered dinosaur is at least part of the answer.
Rebecca Hersher, NPR News.
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