|Introducing Aethiocarenus burmanicus. (image: George Poinar, Jr.)|
Around 100 million years ago, an alien-looking insect with a bizarre head and long thin legs likely crawled around on trees in what is now Burma.
The insect is so strange that researchers say that it is not only a new species, but also belongs in its own new scientific order. Living in the time of the dinosaurs, the insect was tiny and wingless. Just two specimens of this new species exist, both of them preserved in Burmese amber.
"The strangest thing about this insect is that the head looked so much like the way aliens are often portrayed," George Poinar, an emeritus professor of entomology at Oregon State University, said in a statement. "With its long neck, big eyes and strange oblong head, I thought it resembled E.T.”
The critter from the past— it’s now extinct— represents one of about a million known species of insects. But since it is so distinctive, it has defined a new order of insects, boosting the number of insect orders up by one, according to Oregon State University. It likely ate things like mites and fungi, the university said, as it probably was omnivorous.
“This insect has a number of features that just don’t match those of any other insect species that I know,” Poinar said in the statement. “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."
Ultimately what makes it so strange are the insect’s triangular-shaped head (with the vertex as the neck) and alien-looking bowl-shaped eyes on the sides. It had neck glands that secreted what could have been a predator-repelling chemical.
“When I first saw this fossil, I couldn’t believe my eyes,” Poinar said, in a video describing the discovery. “I thought it had to be an alien.”
The new species is described in the journal Cretaceous Research.