A rare prehistoric fossil of a female mosquito was discovered by a team of US researchers from oil shales in an ancient lakebed in Montana. What makes this discovery unusual is that the mosquito fossil still has an intact belly full of dried blood from ancient animals. The finding proves how little insects have changed over time.
This is the first time in scientific history that a blood-filled fossilised mosquito has been unearthed.
The well-preserved 46 million-year-old female mosquito fossil was retrieved from shale deposits (type of rock formed from sediments deposited at the bottom of water bodies, and which decomposes organic remains at a slow rate) in the lake. It seems like the prehistoric mosquito had been sucked in a belly full of blood but unfortunately had a devastating end as it fell into the present day Montana lake and sank to the bottom. No damage was caused to its fragile blood-filled abdomen during this process. The dried blood in the mosquito might belong to either a mammal or a bird.
The mosquito fossil was discovered by Dale Greenwalt, a researcher at the National Museum of Natural History in Washington, DC. According to Greenwalt, the mosquito's decomposition didn't take place immediately. It gradually fossilised over the course of several years. The fossil of the prehistoric mosquito was given to the museum, LiveScience reported.
The researchers used 'non destructive mass spectrometry' to get a chemical picture of the mosquito's last meal. They looked for two important molecules namely iron and porphyrin, that is present in the haemoglobin-protein found in blood.
They bombarded the mosquito fossil with bismuth molecules, which vaporised the chemicals present in the fossil. The chemicals were later analysed using mass spectrometer. They found traces of prophyrins present in mosquito's abdomen that was from the Eocene epoch, 19 million years after the dinosaurs went extinct.
The researchers could not pinpoint the creature the mosquito last snacked on as the DNA degenerates after some time. After 6.8 million years, it is impossible, The Sydney Morning Herald reports.
For those who were expecting a recreation of the Jurassic Park and re-cloning of T-Rex, this is sad news because in real life the concept of using blood from a mosquito to create clones is extremely challenging.
"The discovery also shows that blood-filled mosquitoes were already feeding at that time, suggesting that they were around much earlier and could have fed on dinosaurs," said George Poinar, a paleo-entomologist at Oregon State University, who wasn't involved in the research.
The findings were published on Monday in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.