BAABDA, Lebanon — The earliest-known fossil mosquito dating back more than 100 million years suggests males were bloodsuckers too.
Researchers found it in Lower Cretaceous amber from Lebanon.
They say the well-preserved insects are two males of the same species with piercing mouthparts, suggesting they likely sucked blood.
Among modern-day mosquitoes, only females are hematophagous, meaning that they use piercing mouthparts to feed on the blood of people and other animals.
Professor Dany Azar, of the Chinese Academy of Sciences and the Lebanese University, said: “Lebanese amber is, to date, the oldest amber with intensive biological inclusions.
“It is a very important material as its formation is contemporaneous with the appearance and beginning of radiation of flowering plants, with all what follows of co-evolution between pollinators and flowering plants,” added Professor Dany Azar.
“Molecular dating suggested that the family Culicidae arose during the Jurassic, but previously the oldest record was mid-Cretaceous,” said fellow researcher Professor André Nel, of the National Museum of Natural History of Paris.
“Here we have one from the early Cretaceous, about 30 million years before,” he continued.
The research team explained that the Culicidae family of arthropods includes more than 3,000 species of mosquitoes.
The new findings, published in the journal Current Biology, suggest that male mosquitoes in the past fed on blood as well.
They also help to narrow the “ghost-lineage gap” for mosquitoes, according to the research team.
“Female mosquitoes are notorious for their blood-feeding ways, which has made them a major vector for spreading infectious diseases,” said Azar.
“Hematophagy in insects is thought to have arisen as a shift from piercing-sucking mouthparts used to extract plant fluids. For example, blood-sucking fleas likely arose from nectar-feeding insects,” he added.
“But the evolution of blood feeding has been hard to study in part due to gaps in the insect fossil record,” he continued.
The two male mosquitoes found had piercing mouthparts, including an exceptionally sharp, triangular mandible and elongated structure with small, tooth-like denticles.
The team said that the mosquitoes’ preservation in amber extends the definitive occurrence of the mosquito family of insects into the early Cretaceous.
It also suggests that the evolution of hematophagy was more complicated than had been suspected, with hematophagous males in the distant past.
Nel says the team wants to learn more about the “utility” of having hematophagy in Cretaceous male mosquitoes, and are also curious to explore “why this no longer exists.”
Produced in association with SWNS Talker