A team led by Chinese scientists has discovered a new insect that eats dinosaur feathers, according to a study published Monday in the British journal Nature Communications. A bird that is similar to modern lice, a species named Mesophthirus engeli, which is similar to modern lice, and is preserved in amber along with some of the damaged dinosaur feathers.
Because of the gaps in the Mesothal fossil record (250 million to 65 million years ago), researchers have little understanding of the origin and evolution of insect feather-eating behavior. Previously, blood-fed insects have been found in Jurassic (201 million to 145 million years ago) and Cretaceous (145 million to 66 million years ago). Although feathered dinosaurs were common during this period, insects that feed on dinosaur feathers have never been reported before.
Researchers from China’s Capital Normal University, the Chinese Academy of Sciences, capital medical university and the National Museum of Natural History and the Russian Academy of Sciences analyzed 10 insects preserved with two dinosaur feathers from two 100 million-year-old ambers from the Kachin region of northern Myanmar.
These wingless insects have body patterns similar to modern lice, especially since they also have very strong chewing mouths. One of the feathers has damaged marks, apparently chewed, and the damage marks are similar to those of modern birds that live with lice.
The researchers say the new findings suggest that feather-eating parasites appeared during or before the Cretaceous period, about the same time as the diversity of birds and feathered dinosaurs.