Researchers have found a very old and  “alien like” insect and they’ve decided it doesn’t fit anywhere in the current tree of life.

Image credits: George Poinar / OSU

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There are over 1 million described species of insects and all of them can be grouped neatly into 31 existing orders — but not this one. Entomologists believe this creature lived about 100 million years ago, roaming the bark and fungi of the Cretaceous. It was tiny, but for the mites and worms of the days, it probably looked like a monster.

“This insect has a number of features that just don’t match those of any other insect species that I know,” said Dr. Poinar, an emeritus professor of entomology at Oregon State University’s College of Science and co-author of the study, in an OSU press release. “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.”

Among those unusual features is a triangular head with bulging eyes. The way in which the head is attached to the body is even more surprising, a unique feature in the animal world.
“The distinguishing feature of Aethiocarenus burmanicus sp. et gen. nov. is its unique head, the dorsum of which is shaped like an isosceles right triangle with the hypotenuse at the top and vertex positioned at the base of the neck,” write Poinar and his co-author Alex Brown in the abstract of their study. “While insects with triangular-shaped heads are common today, the hypotenuse of the triangle is always located at the base of the head and attached to the neck, with the vertex at the apex of the head.”
With its eyes placed so far outside of its triangular head, the creature could likely see behind it. Researchers also believe it was am omnivore, having a broad diet. It also featured a long, narrow body, as well as slender legs which allowed it to move swiftly. They also noticed some glands on the neck, likely for producing chemicals to defend itself against predators.

Scaring the kids

Poinar seems to have really taken a liking to the little fellow, even making a Halloween mask after it.

“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.”

The insect has been placed in the newly created Aethiocarenodea, and the species has been named Aethiocarenus burmanicus, in reference to the Hukawng Valley mines of Myanmar – previously known as Burma – where it was found.
The findings have been published in the journal Cretaceous Research.