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Ancient, Alien-Like Insect Discovered in Stone Amber

A 100-million-year-old alien-like insect with a triangular head has been discovered in a semi-precious stone amber in Myanmar, says a new study published in the journal Cretaceous Research.

Newly-Discovered, weird, alien-like insect preserved in amber. Photo credits: George Poinar/ Oregon State University.

The ET-insect, named Aethiocarenus burmanicus (A. burmanicus), was a tiny female without wings—small but scary. It dates back to the time of the dinosaurs. The only other individual of the same kind was also found in Burmese amber. The Oregon State University’s team behind the discovery believe that the creature probably resided in grooves of tree barks. It is so weird that scientists have categorised it into a new scientific ‘order’, a taxonomic rank; the authors of the new paper explain that its attributes are in stark contrast with those of known insect species. Documented insects, otherwise, fit into 31 orders. The new order is called Aethiocarenodea.

“This insect has a number of features that just don’t match those of any other insect species that I know,” says George Poinar, one of the authors, who is among the leading scientists studying life forms preserved in the amber.
“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.”

One of the strikingly-unusual traits of A. burmanicus is its head shaped into a triangle whose vertex is found at the base of the neck. Its bulging eyes are also something of a horror movie. This creature would have had abilities beyond what we know of insects: it would have been able to see almost 180 when turning its head sideways. It could see behind itself, according to the scientists.

“The strangest thing about this insect is that the head looked so much like the way aliens are often portrayed,” Poinar said. “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.”

A. burmanicus wore a long, narrow, and flat body, accompanied with long thin legs. Poinar and his colleague deduced that it was probably an omnivore, feeding on worms, mites or fungi in the tree crevices. Its movement would have been fast, and it could probably also keep predators away thanks to a chemical that secreted by glands on its neck.

How did it go extinct? This remains a question unanswered. The authors believe that it had special features that accounted for its survival 100 million years ago in forested regions of ancient Burma, but what happened to cause it to disappear is not known. They suggest that loss of habitat might have been a possible cause.


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