Myanmar amber preserves tick trapped in spider web for 99 million years

An unfortunate series of events 99 million years ago left this tick wrapped in spider silk and entombed in amber. Paleontologists recently unveiled the fossil for the first time. Photo: Jason Dunlop

A tick that was caught in a spider’s web 99 million years ago in northern Myanmar has been discovered in a shard of fossilized amber, giving scientists a glimpse into the interactions between ancient arachnids.

National Geographic published newly released photos of the fossil over the weekend. Paleontologist David Grimaldi told the magazine that the tick probably fell into a trap set by a spider inside a tree cavity that would have been used by climbing raptor dinosaurs, whose blood the tick was waiting to suck.

Through the translucent amber, the fat body of the tick can be seen shrouded in a lattice of delicate fibers. After the tick was caught, the spider must have looped its prey in more fibers, tying the shroud around the tick, either to save it for later or to immobilize it. But before the spider had a chance to feed on its juicy catch, a wave of tree sap enveloped it, preserving it for human inspection millions of years later.

The rare fossil – the first of its kind – is described in the April issue of the journal Cretaceous Research. Few fossilized ticks have been discovered before, and none have contained evidence of interaction with spiders. The tick’s legs and mouth are all intact inside the amber, wrapped in the spider web.

At some point, the prized chunk of amber made its way from a mine in northern Myanmar to the possession of a German collector named Patrick Müller, who agreed to sell it to the Berlin Museum of Natural History after consulting with researchers about its scientific significance, National Geographic reported.

The fossilized tick joins a fantastic array of amber fossils from Myanmar’s Kachin State that have been analyzed over the last few years, including a baby dinosaur tail, dinosaur bird wings, a tailed spider, a damselfly named after Sir David Attenborough, and a flower that shows that Myanmar used to be connected to Australia before the continents drifted over millions of years.

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