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Blood-sucking mosquito's final meal preserved in 46-million-year-old fossil

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mosquito (PNAS)
mosquito (PNAS)

Blood-sucking insects may be the bane of your summer picnics, but they've been around for far, far longer: according to new research, mosquitoes that feed on blood have been around for at least 46 million years. Researchers led from the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History made the discovery by studying fossilized mosquitoes. Eventually, they came across one that appeared to still be filled with its final meal of blood — though that may not sound like a rare phenomenon, it is. The researchers write that such a finding has never been described before.

Yes, they know it's like 'Jurassic Park'

To determine that the mosquito was actually filled with blood, the researchers studied the iron levels in its abdomen. The levels of iron were far higher than they should have been, and the researchers say that this could only be due to the presence of blood. While the researchers won't be able to do much with the fossilized blood, it does go quite a ways in explaining mosquitoes' history: previously, researchers had only deduced that their ancestors sucked blood because of common physical traits, like parts of their mouths — but now they've actually witnessed the feeding trait in action.

The mosquito was fossilized in a Montana lake, and the researchers say that its death must have been a quick one: it likely fed, was blown into a lake, and quickly sunk to the bottom where it was encased in sediment. In a paper describing their findings — which was published yesterday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences — the researchers admit that they aren't blind to what most people will jump to when they hear of a fossilized, blood-engorged mosquito. Such a specimen hasn't been found before now, they write, "despite the popular misconception of dinosaur DNA recovery ... popularized by the 1993 film Jurassic Park." As has been debunked time and again, DNA can't survive fossilization, but the researchers write that there's still value in the other organic molecules that can.