Oldest mosquitoes frozen in amber 130 million years ago reveal a 'bloodsucking ... trends now
The oldest-known fossils of mosquitoes have revealed a 'bloodsucking surprise.'
Remains of two males frozen in amber 130 million years ago featured elongated piercing-sucking mouthparts seen now only in females - the only ones that bite.
The discovery is 'a major one in the evolutionary history of mosquitoes,' according to the team's lead paleontologist.
The male specimens, these scientists argued, suggested an unlikely origin story for the blood-sucking mosquito: The insect may have evolved from a plant-sucking vegetarian ancestor.
Remains of two males frozen in amber 130 million years ago featured elongated piercing-sucking mouthparts seen now only in females - the only ones that bite
The specimens were unearthed in Lebanon, near the town of Hammana, researchers reported this week
The specimens were unearthed in Lebanon, near the town of Hammana, researchers reported this week.
'Clearly, they were hematophagous [blood-eaters],' said paleontologist Dany Azar of the Chinese Academy of Sciences Nanjing Institute of Geology and Paleontology and Lebanese University.
'In all hematophagous insects,' Azar said, 'we believe that hematophagy was a shift from plant-liquid sucking to bloodsucking.'
Plant evolution may have played a role in the feeding divergence between male and female mosquitoes too, according to Azar, who served as lead author on the new study, published this week in the journal Current Biology.
When these two male mosquitoes became stuck in tree sap that eventually became amber, according to Azar and his colleagues' analysis, flowering plants were beginning to flourish for the first time along the landscape of the Cretaceous world.
The fact that these earliest-known mosquitoes are bloodsucking males, Azar added, 'means that originally the first mosquitoes were all hematophagous - no matter whether they were males or females.'
Azar and his team said they suspect the ancient mosquito mouthparts adapted for obtaining blood meals were once originally used to pierce plants to access nutritious