Because life has existed for so long, there are countless species of creatures that no longer exist. We only know about these creatures through fossil records that they have left behind, but it s very rare to find completely intact fossils. Researchers recently found a fossilized insect in Myanmar that is surprisingly well preserved. The most shocking aspect of this find is the bizarre, alien-like shape of the insect.
Discovery of Fossilized Insect Shocks Scientific Community
There are over 1 million species of insects known on planet earth, but this vast variety of insects can all be categorized in just 31 orders. Most new insects or fossils that are discovered can easily be added into one of the basic 31 orders of insects, but a new find in Myanmar defies expectations.
The insect fossil was discovered in Myanmar, and it is preserved within amber, a fossilized form of tree sap. The body looks almost like a normal ant, but entomologists quickly realized it was something different. Dr George Poinar and professor Alex Brown recently published a report in the Cretaceous Research journal that proves the insect is a new order.
The clear, hard amber has preserved the insect so clearly that the researchers could see every detail. They could instantly tell that it looked like nothing ever seen before. Its most unusual feature is a triangular head with a neck at one point and a giant bulging eye at each of the two other points.
This has been completely unseen in the insect world because all other insects with a triangular head have a neck situated between two of the points on the triangle. The oblong, triangular head with the narrow neck is not found in any other type of insect.
Therefore, the researchers created a new scientific order, named Aethiocarenodea, just for this insect. Its individual name is Aethiocarenus burmanicus, so it is named after the Burmese mines where it was discovered.
Entire New Order of Insects Discovered
Most orders of insects, such as the Coleoptera order of beetles, contain hundreds of thousands of species. The Aethiocarenus burmanicus insect is the only species within the Aethiocarenodea order. So far, only one other specimen of the burmanicus insect has been found, and it was also trapped in Burmese amber.
The triangular, sideways head is the most unusual feature about the bug. Poinar says,
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.
The unusual head and neck arrangement would have allowed the burmanicus insect to see almost 180 degrees and turn its head sideways. It could easily have seen everything behind it, and the massive bulging eyes seem to be quite powerful.
A triangular head with a neck at the vertice is not the only hallmark of the new order. The insect also has neck glands that were capable of secreting a chemical to repel predators. Its body is unusually flat, and its legs are extremely long.
The Search for More Specimens Grows
Aethiocarenus burmanicus looks like no other insect due to its triangular head shape. The uniqueness of this fossilized insect has caused scientists to admit the existence of a 32nd order of insects.
Though new species are discovered all the time through fossil finds, it is very rare for researchers to discover a new order of insects. They now hope to find more examples of this unique insect shape as either fossilized specimens or living insects.
Photo by George Poinar, courtesy of Oregon State University, available under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic license.