New insects feeding on dinosaur feathers in mid-Cretaceous amber
Due to a lack of Mesozoic fossil records, the origins and early evolution of feather-feeding behaviors by insects are obscure. Here, we report ten nymph specimens of a new lineage of insect, Mesophthirus engeli gen et. sp. nov. within Mesophthiridae fam. nov. from the mid-Cretaceous (ca. 100 Mya) Myanmar (Burmese) amber. This new insect clade shows a series of ectoparasitic morphological characters such as tiny wingless body, head with strong chewing mouthparts, robust and short antennae having long setae, legs with only one single tarsal claw associated with two additional long setae, etc. Most significantly, these insects are preserved with partially damaged dinosaur feathers, the damage of which was probably made by these insects’ integument-feeding behaviors. This finding demonstrates that feather-feeding behaviors of insects originated at least in mid-Cretaceous, accompanying the radiation of feathered dinosaurs including early birds. Numerous feathered dinosaurs and early birds have been discovered from the Jurassic and Cretaceous, but the early evolution of feather-feeding insects is not clear. Here, Gao et al. describe a new family of ectoparasitic insects from 10 specimens found associated with feathers in mid-Cretaceous amber.
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