Male Mosquitoes Sucked Blood Too — Then Went Plant-Based to Survive: Researcher
Today, only female mosquitoes suck blood from humans and other animals. But two newly examined male mosquito fossils indicate that this may not have always been the case, with self-preservation possibly the reason for males losing their thirst for blood.
In a study published Monday in the journal Current Biology, researchers from China, Lebanon, France, and the United States say that two fossilized male mosquitoes also possess piercing mouthparts that only female mosquitoes possess today.
The fossils, discovered in pieces of amber in Lebanon dating to the Early Cretaceous period around 130 million years ago, are the oldest known mosquito fossils and push back the fossil record of mosquitoes by nearly 30 million years.
The male mosquitoes both have sharp and elongated triangular mandibles and laciniae with small teeth — strong evidence that they were blood-drinkers, said Dany Azar, the study’s lead researcher from the Nanjing Institute of Geology and Paleontology of the Chinese Academy of Sciences and Lebanese University.
“They function like scissors. The mandibles can make a hole in the skin while they have these denticles, which will help to cut the skin when entering,” Azar told Sixth Tone.
According to Azar, male mosquitoes’ blood-sucking mouthparts may have degenerated because of the gradual emergence of angiosperms, or flowering plants, which can directly provide them with energy and sugar.
“It’s safer for them. They never saw a flower hit them, but all the tetrapods will act the same way as humans when attacked by mosquitoes — by hitting them,” said Azar.
Female mosquitoes may not have seen their diets switch as they continued to need blood, which has high amounts of protein and nutrients, to help develop their ovaries for reproductive purposes, Azar explained.
While the earliest fossil record of mosquitoes dates back to the Cretaceous Period, the insect may have emerged during the Jurassic Period more than 145 million years ago, the researchers said.
The discovery has sparked discussion on Chinese social media, with netizens comparing the news with classic movie “Jurassic Park,” in which scientists used the blood of fossilized mosquitoes to extract the DNA of dinosaurs in order to clone them.
Unfortunately for Chinese dinosaur enthusiasts, Azar dismissed the idea. “We have wonderful preservation of the mosquitoes’ structures, but not the (DNA). Normally, if we expose any DNA for some seconds to sunlight or X-ray, that’s immediately broken.”
Editor: Vincent Chow.
(Header image: Left: The Lebanese amber of one of the ancient male mosquitoes; right: A close look at one of the male mosquitoes. CNS)