Medical Research Council - London Institute of Medical Sciences

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Ancient Feeding Habits
27 November 2013

Ancient Feeding Habits

Feeding on the blood of another or haematophagy is a process that causes many of the world’s most deadly diseases. Yellow fever and malaria are just two infections spread by the practice. Finding evidence of this ancient feeding mechanism in the fossil record has proved elusive. Despite what Jurassic Park would lead us to believe, fossilised mosquitoes are incredibly rare. To provide evidence of haematophagy, a prehistoric mosquito had to drink a final meal, sink to the bottom of a pond or lake and become buried under layers of sediment. All without disrupting its fragile, blood-engorged abdomen. Now a 46-million-year-old mosquito discovered in northwest Montana shows this is exactly what occurred. Researchers identified high levels of iron and the pigment porphyrin in this unique mosquito’s gut, indicating the presence of haemoglobin, the oxygen-carrying protein found in blood. Could understanding early blood guzzlers inform ways to deter today’s pests?

Written by Hayley Simon

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