PARIS (UPI) — Fossils discovered in China suggest prehistoric fleas up to an inch long may have fed on feathered dinosaurs, an international team of researchers says.
Fossils of several of the blood-sucking insects were unearthed at two sites in China, with females almost an inch long and males about half that size, Britain’s The Independent reported Wednesday.
Although much larger than modern fleas, they lacked the characteristic jumping hind legs, researchers said.
The blood-sucking “siphonate” mouth parts were unusually long and sturdy and would have been used to pierce the hides of their hosts, scientists wrote in the journal Nature.
Modern fleas feed exclusively on animals with fur and feathers, suggesting the prehistoric fleas may have been feeding on feathered dinosaurs rather than mammals, they said.
“The early mammals were small animals, making the large size of these Mesozoic [flea] species and the robustness of their mouth parts seem mismatched,” Andre Nel of the Museum of Natural History in Paris wrote.
“It is … possible that the hosts of these early fleas were among the feathered dinosaurs of the period that became well known from the same [fossil] deposits.”