By Benjamin Cost
Time to start stocking your time machines with bathtubs of Raid! Scientists have recently unearthed the fossilized remains of giant fleas in Inner Mongolia and Liaoning province, with the prehistoric pests believed to be part of a fossil trove of bugs that lived around 165 million years ago during the Jurassic and early Cretacaeous epochs.
And in a factoid guaranteed to be every pet’s nightmare for the next few weeks, the three flea species discovered were approximately ten times the size of a modern flea:
While modern fleas are just a few millimetres long, some of these ancient forms were ten times bigger. The males grew between 8 and 15 millimetres in length and the females reached between 14 and 20 millimetres.
However, the fleas did not possess the ability to jump great distances like their present day counterparts, since they lacked the long hind-legs necessary for springing (a flea big enough to leap from the Bund to Pudong would be terrifying). Instead, they were equipped with the long hook-like back legs, and the claws proved ideal for latching on to the feathers and fur of their respective dinosaur and mammal quarry.
The Jurassic flea also featured a humongous bloodsucking siphon, longer and broader than that of a normal flea, and able to penetrate a dinosaur’s formidable hide.
This monstrous mouthpart may even provide insight into how fleas evolved in the first place:
They [the siphons] are very much like those of scorpionflies – a group of insects named after the males’ large genitals, which look like a scorpion’s sting. Many scorpionflies (like the one below) have long snouts that they use to probe the depths of flowers, and suck up nectar and pollen. At some point in their history, some of their members adapted to sucking a bloodier liquid.
We’re glad they’re extinct, though the Hangzhou insect-eating scene might rue the loss of fleas large enough to snack on.