Lice are really something you cannot get rid of that quickly – every parent knows that. They spread fast, and they are somehow skilled to avoid being caught. And we can understand why now.
There’s a new fossil that was found in amber, which shows that these insects have been here for about 100 million years. You read that right – they were present on dinosaurs, too.
The finding is fascinating. Julie Allen, from the University of Nevada, stated that having a fossil this old and feeding on feathers it’s simply spectacular.
Genetic work on lice had shown that they appeared when there were feathered dinosaurs, but the fossil lice are few. These tiny creatures will probably not fossilize, and if they do, it’s hard to see. Chungkun Shih, Taiping Gao and Dong Ren from the Capital Normal University in Beijing spent some time scanning the fossils for insects that they previously did not find, especially lice. In two specimens of amber, they found ten tiny insects, which showed damage – something might have been eating them.
These insects are only 0.2 millimeters long, which is twice the width of human hair, and they do not look like the lice we know. Their mouths are not as modern, and they have long and stiff bristles on their claws and antenna. These insects were named Mesophthirus engeli; Mesophthirus means Mesozoic louse, cause that’s when they lived.
But just like modern lice, these lice have no wings, and their eyes are tiny, they have short legs and short antenna, which means that they did not travel so fast. Because they were so small, scientists believe that these specimens were nymphs and that the fully grown creatures would have been half a millimeter long.