A seemingly insignificant event that occurred in an ancient tropical jungle has led to two stunning scientific discoveries.
Around 20 to 30 millions years ago, a monkey picked a tick from the back of one of its grooming partners, roughly tossing the insect away.
The fossilised remains of this creature struck a tree and became stuck in its sap, which hardened and turned to amber over the ensuing millennia.
And this artefact has now provided rare specimens not only of the blood of our primate ancestors, but also the parasites that inhabited it – which still infect humans and other animals today.
Scientists from Oregon State University believe the discovery – found in what is now the Dominican Republic – is the only example of fossilised mammal’s blood ever found.
The preserved Babesia-type pathogens it contains are also unique, according to the researchers.
And the specific chain of events which led to the preservation of the tick resulted in an unusually clear sample of its host’s blood.
The tick appears to have been damaged when it was removed from its monkey meal, with two tiny holes visible in its exoskeleton.
A small amount of blood leaked from its body at the very moment it became stuck in the tree sap.
This had the effect of preparing the blood for inspection in a similar way to samples which are stained for observation under a microscope.
The Oregon State team – lead by an international expert on plant and animal life forms found preserved in amber – was clearly able to make out the parasites within the blood, due to their differing texture and density.