The 46-million-year-old fossil, already rare in that it was preserved in shale, not amber, is the first time a blood-engorged mosquito has been found preserved. And while dreams of a "Jurassic Park"-like resurrection of prehistoric creatures probably isn't in the cards, the discovery opens new channels for research into our world's history.
The finding means that complex organic molecules can be preserved for a very long time, said Dale Greenwalt, a researcher at the National Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C., which was given the fossil as a gift.
It means "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, an Oregon State University paleo-entomologist.
But because hemoglobin-derived porphyrins -- organic compounds found in blood -- are identical across different kinds of animals, researchers aren't sure what creature the mosquito last fed upon, Greenwalt said.
And because porphyrins are found in almost all living organisms from humans down to microbes, more proof that they're stable over millions of years means that they are a good target to study ancient plants and animals -- and compare them directly to their modern descendants.
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