Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:


Bizarre parasite from the Jurassic


Around 165 million years ago, a spectacular parasite was at home in the freshwater lakes of present-day Inner Mongolia (China): A fly larva with a thorax formed entirely like a sucking plate.

With it, the animal could adhere to salamanders and suck their blood with its mouthparts formed like a sting. To date no insect is known that is equipped with a similar specialised design. The international scientific team is now presenting its findings in the journal "eLIFE".

Salamanders served as hosts: This reconstruction shows how scientists think the fly larvae adhered to the skin of the amphibian. Graphic: Yang Dinghua, Nanjing

The fossil: thanks to the fine-grained mudstone, the details of the two centimetre long parasite Qiyia jurassica are exceptionally preserved. Photo: Bo Wang, Nanjing

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 international research team believes that this unusual animal is a parasite which lived in a landscape with volcanoes and lakes what is now northeastern China around 165 million years ago. In this fresh water habitat, the parasite 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 parasite lived the life of Reilly“, says Prof. Jes Rust from the Steinmann Institute for Geology, Mineralogy and Palaeontology of the University of Bonn. This is because there were many salamanders in the lakes, as fossil finds at the same location near Ningcheng in Inner Mongolia (China) have shown.

“There scientists had also found around 300,000 diverse and exceptionally preserved fossil insects", reports the Chinese scientist Dr. Bo Wang, who is researching in palaeontology at the University of Bonn as a PostDoc with sponsorship provided by the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation. The spectacular fly larva, which has received the scientific name of “Qiyia jurassica”, however, was a quite unexpected find. "Qiyia" in Chinese means "bizarre"; "jurassica" refers to the Jurassic period to which the fossils belong.

A fine-grained mudstone ensured the good state of preservation of the fossil

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:

"No insect exists today with a comparable body shape", says Dr Bo Wang. That the bizarre larva from the Jurassic has remained so well-preserved to the present day is partly due to the fine-grained mudstone in which the animals were embedded. "The finer the sediment, the better the details are reproduced in the fossils", explains Dr Torsten Wappler of the Steinmann-Institut of the University of Bonn. The conditions in the groundwater also prevented decomposition by bacteria.

Astonishingly, no fossil fish are found in the freshwater lakes of this Jurassic epoch in China. "On the other hand, there are almost unlimited finds of fossilised salamanders, which were found by the thousand“, says Dr Bo Wang. This unusual ecology could explain why the bizarre parasites survived in the lakes: fish are predators of fly larvae and usually hold them in check. "The extreme adaptations in the design of Qiyia jurassica show the extent to which organisms can specialise in the course of evolution", says Prof. Rust.

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 explains. 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 it would have looked like, and how it might have lived.

Publication: Extreme adaptations for aquatic ectoparasitism in a Jurassic fly larva, “eLIFE” journal, DOI: 10.7554/elife.02844

Media contact:

Dr. Bo Wang
Steinmann-Institut of the University of Bonn
and State Key Laboratory of Palaeobiology and Stratigraphy
Nanjing Institute of Geology and Palaeontology
Chinese Academy of Sciences (Nanjing/China)
Tel. (0086)13951982860

Prof. Jes Rust
Steinmann-Institut of the University of Bonn
Tel. ++49-(0)228-734842

PD Dr. Torsten Wappler
Steinmann-Institut of the University of Bonn
Tel. ++49-(0)228-734682

Weitere Informationen: Publication

Johannes Seiler | idw - Informationsdienst Wissenschaft

Further reports about: Geology Jurassic Palaeontology bizarre fly insect larva larvae parasite parasites salamanders

More articles from Earth Sciences:

nachricht NASA provides an infrared look at Hurricane Joaquin over time
08.10.2015 | NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center

nachricht Ancient rocks record first evidence for photosynthesis that made oxygen
07.10.2015 | University of Wisconsin-Madison

All articles from Earth Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Kick-off for a new era of precision astronomy

The MICADO camera, a first light instrument for the European Extremely Large Telescope (E-ELT), has entered a new phase in the project: by agreeing to a Memorandum of Understanding, the partners in Germany, France, the Netherlands, Austria, and Italy, have all confirmed their participation. Following this milestone, the project's transition into its preliminary design phase was approved at a kick-off meeting held in Vienna. Two weeks earlier, on September 18, the consortium and the European Southern Observatory (ESO), which is building the telescope, have signed the corresponding collaboration agreement.

As the first dedicated camera for the E-ELT, MICADO will equip the giant telescope with a capability for diffraction-limited imaging at near-infrared...

Im Focus: Locusts at the wheel: University of Graz investigates collision detector inspired by insect eyes

Self-driving cars will be on our streets in the foreseeable future. In Graz, research is currently dedicated to an innovative driver assistance system that takes over control if there is a danger of collision. It was nature that inspired Dr Manfred Hartbauer from the Institute of Zoology at the University of Graz: in dangerous traffic situations, migratory locusts react around ten times faster than humans. Working together with an interdisciplinary team, Hartbauer is investigating an affordable collision detector that is equipped with artificial locust eyes and can recognise potential crashes in time, during both day and night.

Inspired by insects

Im Focus: Physicists shrink particle accelerator

Prototype demonstrates feasibility of building terahertz accelerators

An interdisciplinary team of researchers has built the first prototype of a miniature particle accelerator that uses terahertz radiation instead of radio...

Im Focus: Simple detection of magnetic skyrmions

New physical effect: researchers discover a change of electrical resistance in magnetic whirls

At present, tiny magnetic whirls – so called skyrmions – are discussed as promising candidates for bits in future robust and compact data storage devices. At...

Im Focus: High-speed march through a layer of graphene

In cooperation with the Center for Nano-Optics of Georgia State University in Atlanta (USA), scientists of the Laboratory for Attosecond Physics of the Max Planck Institute of Quantum Optics and the Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität have made simulations of the processes that happen when a layer of carbon atoms is irradiated with strong laser light.

Electrons hit by strong laser pulses change their location on ultrashort timescales, i.e. within a couple of attoseconds (1 as = 10 to the minus 18 sec). In...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>



Event News

EHFG 2015: Securing healthcare and sustainably strengthening healthcare systems

01.10.2015 | Event News

Conference in Brussels: Tracking and Tracing the Smallest Marine Life Forms

30.09.2015 | Event News

World Alzheimer`s Day – Professor Willnow: Clearer Insights into the Development of the Disease

17.09.2015 | Event News

Latest News

NASA provides an infrared look at Hurricane Joaquin over time

08.10.2015 | Earth Sciences

Theoretical computer science provides answers to data privacy problem

08.10.2015 | Information Technology

Stellar desk in wave-like motion

08.10.2015 | Physics and Astronomy

More VideoLinks >>>