A new species of insect has been discovered from a 100-million year old fossil, found trapped in a piece of amber that was excavated in Myanmar. Being dubbed an "alien insect" by the press, the creature was so different from other known classifications of insect that entomologists have placed it in its own taxonomic order within the insect kingdom.
Officially designated as Aethiocarenus burmanicus, this insect lived during the Cretaceous Period, and had a flat-body that was just 0.2 inches (4.5 millimeters) long. While its body appears to be similar to that of a termite, it’s the creature’s odd noggin that sets it apart from other insects: the head is triangular-shaped, similar to that of a mantis, but with the neck at the apex of the triangle, and it’s eyes positioned on the outer corners. The arrangement would not only have enabled the insect to turn its head to allow it to look directly behind it, but it is this strange shape that gives the creature its extraterrestrial appearance.
"The strangest thing about this insect is that the head looked so much like the way aliens are often portrayed," says Aethiocarenus burmanicus’ discoverer, George Poinar, Jr., an emeritus professor of entomology with Oregon State University’s College of Science. "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."
Aethiocarenus burmanicus’ appearance is also alien enough to warrant placing it into not only a species of its own, but also into a totally new taxonomic order. Each of the roughly one million known species of insect fall into one of 31 different orders, but now A. burmanicus makes for number 32.
"This insect has a number of features that just don’t match those of any other insect species that I know," explains Poinar. "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."