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Humongous prehistoric fleas fed on dinosaurs, couldn't jump

Scientists have found fossils of giant, ancient fleas in China. Their large size, five to ten times that of today's fleas, likely helped them to feed on dinosaurs. But they lacked the leg strength of today's fleas.

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This undated handout photo provided by Nature shows female, left, and male, right, fleas from the Middle Jurassic. Scientists have recently discovered fossils of the world's oldest fleas.

AP Photo/D. Huang, Nature

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The oldest fleas were five to 10 times larger than today's bloodsuckers, new research finds. But at least they couldn't jump.

These ancient bloodsuckers are the oldest fleas ever found, and the oldest example of bloodsucking parasites in the fossil record, study researcher André Nel of the Muséum National d’Histoire Naturelle in Paris told LiveScience.

These early fleas lacked the strong hindlegs of modern fleas, Nel said.

"Their biology and behavior was certainly different, more like that of a louse creeping among the fur and feathers of the hosts," said Nel, who, along with his colleagues, analyzed nine fossil specimens of the fleas discovered in outcrops in China.

The fleas lived in the Mesozoic era, a chunk of geologic time extending from 250 million years ago to 65 million years ago and includes the Jurassic period. They were giant compared with today's fleas, with one female specimen's body longer than 0.8 inches (2 cm), said study researcher Diying Huang, a researcher at the Chinese Academy of Science in Nanjing, China. Modern fleas don't get much larger than 0.1 inches, or 3 mm, in length. [Album: The Cutest Bugs]

The fleas' size and tough mouthparts would have made it easy for them to feast on large hosts — even dinosaurs.

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