World's Oldest Tick Found in New Jersey

ByABC News
April 9, 2001, 12:32 PM

April 9 -- What scientists believe to be the world's oldest known tick was found embedded in amber from a vacant lot in central New Jersey.

The 90-million-year-old tick is just one find from a bushel of amber located in the vacant lot in Sayerville which has yielded some of the world's most scientifically important amber specimens from the Cretaceous Period, according to David Grimaldi, chairman and curator, Entomology Department of the American Museum of Natural History. Grimaldi refers to the lot as the "amber mother lode."

He co-authored a report in the current Annals of Entomological Society of America with Ohio State University assistant professor of entomology Hans Klompen on the latest tick discovery. Eighty pounds of amber have been drawn out of deep mud in a complex of sites in central New Jersey.

90 Million-Year-Old Tick

The tick discovery is a significant find, says Grimaldi, because it will help scientists make inferences as to what dinosaurs and birds ate 90 million years ago. The find also pushes back the age of the order of parasitic mites (the order that ticks come from) by 50 million years.

"This specimen is the oldest tick fossil and is very similar to the modern genus," said Grimaldi.

Not only is the soft tick, named Carlos Jerseyi, the oldest known tick it's also the oldest representative of parasitic mites with one significant difference it has a hairy back.

Hairs lining the tick's back were the most unusual aspect of this tick. Researchers suspect the hairs gave the tick extrasensory perception, but why that would be an advantage for the ancient tick is not known. One thing scientists do believe they understand is what the hairy tick may have been feeding on.

"There were feathers found in the amber in New Jersey from birds," said Grimaldi. "We know some dinosaurs had feathers and now we know that parasites fed on these birds and dinosaurs at a fairly early age. But we believe this tick was transported to New Jersey by a South American bird."