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Blood-Sucking Insects Were Spreading Malaria While Dinosaurs Roamed The Earth

Malaria is the deadliest type of mosquito-borne disease, and they have been killing humans for a very long time. The earliest recorded instances of malaria infection date back four thousand years, and Hippocrates described malaria symptoms as early as the fourth century BCE. In fact, it was malaria-carrying mosquitoes that wiped out the earliest city-state populations that existed in ancient Greece. While malaria-carrying mosquitoes have been well known killers for centuries, recent research suggests that the earliest humans were likely vulnerable to malaria since their emergence around 150 to 200 thousand years ago. As it turns out, even the earlier hominid ancestors of modern humans likely suffered outbreaks of malaria, as studies on amber-preserved mosquitoes and ticks show that malaria-carrying mosquitoes existed 100 million years ago, which is when dinosaurs roamed the earth.

It is extremely rare to find flimsy and soft-bodied insects like mosquitoes preserved within amber fossils. It is even more rare for researchers to identify the disease causing pathogens and parasites in the blood that these mosquitoes had collected millions of years ago. According to George Poinar of Oregon State University, there exists five unique areas of the world where well-preserved amber fossils can be found. These fossils date back 100 million years, and in some cases, even before that. These special fossil beds exist within the Dominican Republic, Mexico, the Baltic region of Europe, Canada and Myanmar.

Poinar collected several of these well preserved fossils and found that the blood-meals collected by these mosquitoes 100 million years ago still contained identifiable disease causing pathogens. One fossilized mosquito that existed 100 million years ago was found to have malaria-causing pathogens within its blood meal. Based on this finding as well as other forms of evidence, Poinar believes that early mosquitoes transmitted malaria to the earliest vertebrate animals that existed on earth.

Have you ever located an insect fossil?