Ancient Tapeworm Trapped in Resin Could Trigger Jurassic Park Scenario

Parasitologists in China have discovered one of the world’s earliest tapeworm fossils, and might have their hands on the only fossilized tapeworm remains that aren’t traces from another animal.

The resin-entrapped worm represents one of the oldest families of parasites still alive today and dates to the Cretaceous Period, 100 million years ago.

The Chinese Academy of Sciences team found the sample in Kachin amber, native to the Hukawng Valley in northern Myanmar. The worm appears to have taken root in the intestines of a prehistoric shark or ray, then become dislodged after the host turned into a dinosaur dinner.

The specimen not only looks like a breakthrough in parasite evolutionary study — it’s also stunningly complete. Microstructures like hooked tentacles the animal used for latching onto and feeding on hosts are still intact.

A rare find

It’s rare to find detailed fossils of flatworms or tapeworms because, well, their bodies are very soft. Wang Bo, the study’s lead researcher, explained the significance.

“The fossil record of tapeworms is extremely sparse due to their soft tissues,” Wang told, “which greatly hampers our understanding of their early evolution.

Wang went on to verify that his team “reported the first body fossil of a tapeworm.”

With such a tidy discovery, there’s one big step left for the researchers to take — plan to start a Jurassic Park.

Theoretically, genetic engineers could extract the DNA of the fossilized worm’s hosts. Most tapeworms need two or more hosts to complete a full life cycle, so there’s even a possibility of a two-for-one special.

The results of such conjectural engineering could be a real grab-bag, though. Tapeworms infect all major groups of vertebrates, including humans and livestock.

But the research team doesn’t seem concerned about whether it could give the Anthropocene its first T-Rex, or just another crocodile, shark, or ray — also alive during the Cretaceous. Instead, its authors are focused on what they can learn from the finding itself.

“Our results show that amber can preserve the internal structure of helminths such as tapeworms on geologic time scales,” Wang told It “highlights the importance of amber research in paleoparasitology.”

Sam Anderson

Sam Anderson takes any writing assignments he can talk his way into while intermittently traveling the American West and Mexico in search of margaritas — er, adventure. He parlayed a decade of roving trade work into a life of fair-weather rock climbing and truck dwelling before (to his parents’ evident relief) finding a way to put his BA in English to use. Sam loves animals, sleeping outdoors, campfire refreshments and a good story.