Planet Earth

Amber Preserves Tick’s Last Supper

It's the oldest mammalian red blood cells ever found.

By Nathaniel ScharpingFeb 1, 2018 6:00 AM
DSC-F0218_04_amber_tick.jpg
To the right is a close-up of fossilized blood cells. | George Poinar Jr./Oregon State University

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An amber-trapped tick found in the Dominican Republic contains the oldest mammalian red blood cells ever discovered. According to a study in the Journal of Medical Entomology in March, a grooming primate likely punctured the tick’s shell — releasing blood and betraying its presence to scientists millions of years later — and then flicked the critter into tree sap, where it was preserved for some 15 million to 45 million years. The cells contain a parasite related to a modern species commonly carried by ticks, shedding light on the entwined history of our ancestors and the organisms that preyed on them.

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