How did an historic shark parasite finally end up fossilized in tree resin?

All over its lifetime just about 100 million years in the past, a newfound parasitic trojan horse most probably made its house within the bellies of fish. So how one ended up preserved in amber, fossilized tree resin, has paleontologists scratching their heads.

Unearthed in northern Myanmar, the trojan horse has a number of options that intently resemble the ones of recent tapeworms in shark intestines, paleontologist Cihang Luo and associates document March 22 in Geology.

Luo’s workforce were inspecting amber gathered from investors in Myanmar, discovering most commonly bugs and roundworms trapped within, when the researchers got here throughout a “strange-looking fossil,” says Luo, of the Nanjing Institute of Geology and Paleontology in China. This 10-millimeter-long threadlike specimen gave the impression flatter than standard roundworms. Observations below a microscope printed armor, tentacles and hooklets that seemed larger than, however nonetheless very similar to, the tentacles of recent flatworms that infest sharks and rays.

A long, thin tan worm creates an arc in this image of what was preserved in an ancient piece of amber. It's surrounded by bits and pieces of sand.
The anatomy of this 99-million-year-old flatworm encased in amber is strikingly very similar to fashionable flatworms present in shark intestines, researchers say. How the purported marine parasite ended up in a tree stays a thriller.C. Luo

Scientists have in the past discovered flatworm eggs preserved in 270-million-year-old fossilized shark dung (SN: 6/5/01). Because of flatworms’ small, cushy our bodies and temporary lifestyles cycles, “discovering physique fossils is exceedingly uncommon,” Luo says.

The fossil, says taphonomist Raymond Rogers of Macalester School in St. Paul, Minn., “is an outstanding preservation and a puzzle for other people to resolve.”

The unusual discovering is “very exhausting to provide an explanation for as a result of there don’t seem to be a large number of sharks dwelling in timber,” jokes paleontologist Kenneth De Baets of the College of Warsaw in Poland. “It’s like profitable the lottery — one in 1,000,000.”

In all probability a scavenger feasting on a beached shark carcass picked up the parasite and ultimately in some way tossed it into a close-by tree, Luo and associates speculate.

Confirming this preservation situation would require “whole specimens or host stays,” De Baets says.

Saugat Bolakhe is a spring 2024 intern for Science Information. He earned his undergraduate stage in zoology from Tribhuvan College in Nepal and a graduate stage in well being and science journalism from the Craig Newmark Graduate Faculty at CUNY.

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