An ancient, but newly-discovered species of insect has been found in Myanmar that is so unique and alien that scientists studying it were left no choice but to provide the extraterrestrial-looking insect with a new order for its taxonomic categorization. That’s a rare event in the insect world, where there are already around a million described species on record, and because of the addition of a 100-million-year-old specimen encased in amber, now a 32nd order.
Phys.org reported this week that Oregon State University entomologists surrendered to the idea that a very unusual amber-wrapped insect specimen was different, so different it needed not only a new species designation but a new order of its own as well. They dubbed it Aethiocarenus burmanicus, making it the first specimen to inhabit the order Aethiocarenus.
“This insect has a number of features that just don’t match those of any other insect species that I know,” said George Poinar, Jr., an emeritus professor of entomology in the OSU College of Science, of the new order insect. Poinar is also one of the planet’s leading experts on amber-encased plant and animal life forms.
“I had never really seen anything like it. It appears to be unique in the insect world, and after considerable discussion we decided it had to take its place in a new order.”
The new insect has a unique triangle-shaped head and enormous, bulging eyes (which, if considered, is a very stereotypical depiction of an alien). The vertex pointing back from the eyes, set at a 45-degree angle, is embedded at the base of the neck of the insect. According to Poinar, this would have provided the species with the ability to see nearly 180 degrees simply by turning its head.
“The strangest thing about this insect is that the head looked so much like the way aliens are often portrayed,” Poinar said of the discovery. “With its long neck, big eyes and strange oblong head, I thought it resembled E.T. I even made a Halloween mask that resembled the head of this insect. But when I wore the mask when trick-or-treaters came by, it scared the little kids so much I took it off.”
Researchers believe that Aethiocarenus burmanicus was likely an omnivore. Its preserved body indicates a long, narrow, flat body, with long slender legs. This would have given it the ability to move quickly, and it would have been able to see behind itself. There also were glands on the creature’s neck that scientists believe secreted a substance that most likely was a chemical deployed to repel potential predators.
There are only two known specimens of the new order, both encased in amber. And they may be the only examples that exist because the insect has been extinct for a hundred million years. Entomologists are unsure why, even with its unique features that look ideal for survivability, the species eventually died out. It is speculated that a loss of preferred habitat probably led to its demise.
The new order insect is not the first “new” insect with alien characteristics to make headlines. Back in 2008, the Daily Mail reported on a new species of ant discovered in the Amazon rainforest in Brazil. Originally uncovered in leaf-litter by evolutionary biologist Christian Rabeling from the University of Texas, the only known specimen of new species Martialis heureka was found to have very unique characteristics.
“This discovery lends support to the idea that blind subterranean predator ants arose at the dawn of ant evolution,” Rabeling said of the find. Ants themselves evolved roughly 120 million years ago from wasps.
Rabeling and his colleagues found that the ant was a new species and subfamily of ants after analyzing its DNA from its legs. With no eyes and a long underslung jaw, the alien insect was described as the “ant from Mars.”
[Featured Image by Ansis Klucis/Shutterstock]