In Photos: Bizarre Parasites From the Past

Jurassic Amphibian

A reconstruction showing a 165-million-year-old fly larva parasite that fed on the blood of an amphibian in what is now northeastern China.

(Image credit: Yang Dinghua, Nanjing)

A 165-million-year-old fossil of a fly larva, now dubbed Qiyia jurassica would have latched onto Jurassic salamanders and other amphibians with a mid-body sucker before using its piercing mouthparts to suck its host's blood.

Fine-grained mudstone

The 165-million-year-old fossil of a fly larva parasite that was discovered in fine-grained mudstone in northeastern China.

(Image credit: Bo Wang, Nanjing)

The fine-grained mudstone in which the fossil fly larva was found near Ningcheng in Inner Mongolia preserved several details of the parasite's body, including soft tissue, the thoracic sucker plate, fine setae and its piercing mouthparts.

Bizarre Parasite

Here, a reconstruction of a 165-million-year-old fly larva that sucked the blood of amphibians of the Jurassic in what is now northeastern China.

(Image credit: Yang Dinghua, Nanjing)

The fly larva, Qiyia jurassica was wild-looking. It sported a tiny, tube-shaped head tipped with piercing mouthparts for bloodsucking, a sucker plate beneath its mid-body (thorax) and caterpillarlike hindlegs.

Jurassic Fleas

Jurassic fleas from China.

(Image credit: D. Huang et al, Nature)

This fly larva is one of several ancient parasites with wild looks and lifestyle. For instance, the oldest know fleas, which belonged to the Pseudopulicidae genus, lived 165 million years ago in what is now northeastern China. The Pseudopulicidae bloodsuckers were five to 10 times bigger than today's fleas and may have sucked the blood of dinosaurs, researchers said. Here, a female (left) and male (right) flea from the middle Jurassic in China.

Ancient Bloodsucker

Mesozoic Era Flea

(Image credit: D. Huang et al, Nature)

The fossilized remains of the oldest known fleas were found in China. These ancient bloodsuckers, in the genus Pseudopulicidae, lived 250 million years ago to 65 million years ago.

The ancient fleas were five to 10 times larger than today's fleas, but lacked the strong hindlegs of their modern counterparts.

Fossilized Flea Unearthed in China

Fossilized Flea Unearthed in China

(Image credit: Chungkun Shih)

This ancient parasite (Saurophthyrus exquisitus) was discovered in sediments in northeastern China. The 125-million-year-old flea's body measures 0.8 inches (2 centimeters), making it smaller than older pests, but larger than modern-day fleas.

Jeanna Bryner
Live Science Editor-in-Chief

Jeanna served as editor-in-chief of Live Science. Previously, she was an assistant editor at Scholastic's Science World magazine. Jeanna has an English degree from Salisbury University, a master's degree in biogeochemistry and environmental sciences from the University of Maryland, and a graduate science journalism degree from New York University. She has worked as a biologist in Florida, where she monitored wetlands and did field surveys for endangered species. She also received an ocean sciences journalism fellowship from Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution.