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What Bugged the Dinosaurs?

Insects, Disease, and Death in the Cretaceous

George Poinar Jr.

Publication Year: 2010

Millions of years ago in the Cretaceous period, the mighty Tyrannosaurus rex--with its dagger-like teeth for tearing its prey to ribbons--was undoubtedly the fiercest carnivore to roam the Earth. Yet as What Bugged the Dinosaurs? reveals, T. rex was not the only killer. George and Roberta Poinar show how insects--from biting sand flies to disease-causing parasites--dominated life on the planet and played a significant role in the life and death of the dinosaurs.

The Poinars bring the age of the dinosaurs marvelously to life. Analyzing exotic insects fossilized in Cretaceous amber at three major deposits in Lebanon, Burma, and Canada, they reconstruct the complex ecology of a hostile prehistoric world inhabited by voracious swarms of insects. The Poinars draw upon tantalizing new evidence from their amazing discoveries of disease-producing vertebrate pathogens in Cretaceous blood-sucking flies, as well as intestinal worms and protozoa found in fossilized dinosaur excrement, to provide a unique view of how insects infected with malaria, leishmania, and other pathogens, together with intestinal parasites, could have devastated dinosaur populations.

A scientific adventure story from the authors whose research inspired Jurassic Park, What Bugged the Dinosaurs?? offers compelling evidence of how insects directly and indirectly contributed to the dinosaurs' demise.

Published by: Princeton University Press

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. i-vi


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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix-x

One hundred million years ago, dinosaurs ruled the earth . . . or did they? In reality, there were millions of tiny animals undaunted by those powerful reptilian behemoths and unfazed by their reign of terror, that actually sought them as prey....

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pp. xi

We would like to thank the following people for various types of assistance provided during the preparation of this work: John Aitchison, Norm Anderson, Nick Arnold, Dennis Braman, Kenton Chambers, Peter Cranston, Bryan Danforth, Jim Davis,...

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pp. 1-5

If an autopsy had been made on this ornithopod, it would have revealed many parasites and pathogens inhabiting the tissues. Some, like amoebic dysentery, malaria, and ascarid roundworms, would have caused lesions in the gut, liver abscesses,...

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1. Fossils: A Time Capsule

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pp. 7-16

These events would be uncovered millions of years later when the victims would be revealed to us as fossils frozen in rock and entombed in amber from an extinct araucarian forest. It is from such fossils that we will attempt to unravel a story of struggle,...

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2. The Cretaceous: A Time of Change

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pp. 17-36

The sun rose and set over 29 billion times during the Cretaceous. Each succeeding dawn and nightfall saw the birth and death of billions of organisms, and in every passing millennium, species arose or became extinct. Dramatic physical and biological...

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3. Herbivory

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pp. 37-49

Green plants are the most important organisms in any terrestrial ecosystem and have been since they first evolved. In terms of diversity, they are second only to insects and represent about one quarter of the total known species. They capture the energy from...

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4. Dinosaurs Competing with Insects

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pp. 50-54

From the habits of present day herbivorous insects, we can infer how they would have competed with dinosaurs. We know that nemonychid weevils, like the one found in Lebanese amber, feed on pollen in the male cones of kauri trees and presume...

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5. Did Dinosaurs or Insects “Invent” Flowering Plants?

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pp. 55-56

While relatively few angiosperms were established at the beginning of the Cretaceous, by the Late Cretaceous flowering plants accounted for possibly half of the plant diversity. With their amazingly rapid growth rates and relatively short reproduction...

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6. Pollination

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pp. 57-62

The most significant way insects aided the establishment and spread of flowering plants was by their pollination activities, something the dinosaurs were incapable of doing. Most of the early plants were wind and water pollinated, and neither...

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7. Blights and Diseases of Cretaceous Plants

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pp. 63-71

The Cretaceous was a moldy world, not that much different from the tropical regions today. Fungi parasitized other fungi, and these in turn were parasitized by still others.345 Having lived in the tropics, we know what it is like to find masses of long gray...

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8. The Cretaceous: Age of Chimeras and Other Oddities

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pp. 72-78

I was astonished when I peered down the microscope lens and saw my first Cretaceous chimera. When studying insects in younger Dominican, Mexican, and Baltic amber, it was commonplace to place the fossil in a modern family and sometimes in an...

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9. Sanitary Engineers of the Cretaceous

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pp. 79-90

The world in the Cretaceous would have been a fetid mess without insects. Can you imagine putrefying dinosaur corpses littering the landscape, heaps of dung remaining for months on end, and dead vegetation taking forever to be recycled? Eventually...

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10. The Case for Entomophagy among Dinosaurs

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pp. 91-101

In all probability, almost every dinosaur, even those considered vegetarians, were in actuality omnivores at some point in their lives, certainly when they were in the rapid growth stages and possibly also during periods of egg production. You may question...

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11. Gorging on Dinosaurs

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pp. 102-109

Fresh vertebrate blood is not exactly everyone’s ideal meal. But for a few animals such as leeches, vampire bats, and hematophagous insects, it represents haute cuisine. And even some humans, like the Masai of Kenya, are well known for surviving...

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12. Biting Midges

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pp. 110-115

Biting midges (ceratopogonids) were just one of many insects that fed on vertebrate blood in the late Mesozoic. From amber, we know they shared this habit with sand flies and corethrellid flies,338 as well as other groups found in different types of fossil...

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13. Sand Flies

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pp. 116-121

Bloodletting is a medical practice used by humans for well over two thousand years. The procedure, known as phlebotomy, involved puncturing one of the larger veins and draining blood into a container. This process is reminiscent of the modus operandi...

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14. Mosquitoes

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pp. 122-126

Mosquitoes are uncommon as fossils, even in recent amber from the Dominican Republic,190 and only a single uncontested specimen has been described from the entire Cretaceous191 (color plate 11D). Another possible representative from Early Cretaceous deposits...

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15. Blackflies

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pp. 127-130

Did millions upon millions of blackflies soar over Cretaceous fens and fern grottos, clogging the nasal passages of feeding dinosaurs? Would their appearance cause dinosaurs to stampede, tripping over rocks, breaking legs, or plunging off cliffs in a frantic...

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16. Horseflies and Deerflies

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pp. 131-134

Horseflies and their smaller cousins deerflies of the family Tabanidae were widespread throughout the Cretaceous and because they now feed on both warm- and cold-blooded animals,210–213 they certainly took blood from dinosaurs (fig. 22)....

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17. Fleas and Lice

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pp. 135-140

Parents cringe when their child brings a note from school informing them that a lice infection has been detected in the classroom and their child needs to be treated. And pet lovers know all about the astonishing jumping abilities of fleas and their painful,...

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18. Ticks and Mites

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pp. 141-146

While ticks and mites are not insects but arachnids related to spiders, both probably played important roles in the transmission of pathogens in the Cretaceous world. There are hard and soft varieties of ticks, and in spite of the difference in body shape,...

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19. Parasitic Worms

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pp. 147-156

Parasitic worms, also known as helminths, are widespread in all vertebrate groups today. The eggs of these parasites have been recovered from prehistoric and fossilized coprolites of many animals, including dinosaurs.135 So we already know that dinosaurs...

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20. The Discovery of Cretaceous Diseases

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pp. 157-170

Long before our search for Cretaceous diseases began, events as described above took place in a Burmese forest 100 million years ago. The last few seconds in the life of this fly were extremely important, for they would set the stage for the very first discover...

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21. Diseases and the Evolution of Pathogens

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pp. 171-184

One of the basic premises of this book is that Cretaceous insects transmitted pathogens that either directly or indirectly affected dinosaurs. The results were not only dinosaur disease and mortality but also the destruction of dinosaur food...

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22. Insects: The Ultimate Survivors

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pp. 185-191

Insects have been around for more than 400 million years. Dinosaurs (non-avian) only lasted 180 million. What determines how long families, genera, and species survive? When biological and physical events impact a species so that the death...

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23. Extinctions and the K/T Boundary

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pp. 192-202

Extinctions vary in intensity from normal low-level background to major events where some 50% of the total species of plants and animals disappear. Of the many global restructurings that have been detected, only five qualify as mass extinctions...

APPENDIX A: Cretaceous Hexapoda

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pp. 203-218

APPENDIX B: Key Factors Contributing to the Survival of Terrestrial Animals

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pp. 219-220

APPENDIX C: Problems with Evaluating the Fossil Record and Extinctions

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pp. 221-223


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pp. 225-252


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pp. 253-264

E-ISBN-13: 9781400835690
E-ISBN-10: 1400835690
Print-ISBN-13: 9780691124315
Print-ISBN-10: 0691124310

Page Count: 296
Publication Year: 2010

Edition: Course Book