About 100 million years ago, a prehistoric tick had its “worst day ever” — one that turned out to be its last — when it found itself stuck in a spider web and unable to escape. Soon after, the spider that owned the web defended its creation, further trapping the tick in silk. Moments later, a drop of amber trickled down on the tiny insect as it struggled in the silk, preserving it until it was recently analyzed by a team of scientists in what turned out to be a rare and peculiar find.
As explained by BGR, the preserved tick was discovered in Myanmar by a German amber collector, who then passed on the piece to a team of researchers from the University of Kansas. A press release from the university described the tick’s unfortunate demise as an example of a “primordial worst-day-ever” — the parasite was doomed when it got trapped in silk and had absolutely no chance of escaping when the amber dripped down and preserved it.
“We’re not sure if the spider wrapped it in order to eat it later or if it was to get it out of the way and stop it from wriggling and destroying its web,” said study author and University of Kansas distinguished professor of biology Paul Seiden, as quoted by CNET.
Seiden further explained that the find was rather unusual, not only because it was about 100 million years old, but also because ticks typically aren’t found crawling on tree trunks, which explained why the tick in question was preserved in amber.
“Amber is tree resin, so it tends to capture things that crawl around on bark or the base of the tree. But ticks tend to be on long grass or bushes, waiting for passing animals to brush up against them, though some of them can be on birds or squirrels, or maybe a little crawling dinosaur.”
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While the scientists have a rough idea of how the tick’s “worst day ever” turned out to be its last, there are still many questions that remain unanswered. According to BGR, Seiden and his colleagues aren’t sure what type of spider trapped the tick, it isn’t clear either whether the insect was previously bitten by the spider, or if it was “wrapped up and tossed aside” before it got trapped a second time in the tree sap. Seiden, however, added that it was still interesting to see animal interactions preserved, proving that there were some fascinating interactions in the Cretaceous ecosystem.