While prehistoric insects encased in amber certainly are fascinating, they usually don’t look all that different from today’s insects. A newly discovered one, however, is so bizarre that it has been placed in its own unique family.
Measuring just over 5 mm long, the insect was found in Burma, encased in 100-million-year-old amber (fossilized tree resin). Oregon State University’s Prof. George Poinar Jr., leader of a study on the find, has named it Palaeotanyrhina exophthalma. The first part of that monicker refers to the Palaeotanyrhinidae family, which Poinar created after determining that the insect didn’t fit into any existing families.
Among its unusual features are a set of protruding bulb-shaped eyes, which would have helped P. exophthalma locate prey by giving it 360-degree vision. Once it did snatch its prey, extended sheaths on the lowermost segments of its front legs secreted a sticky resin produced by its dermal glands, allowing it to maintain a firm hold on its struggling quarry.
Although the creature has been placed in its own family, it is a member of the existing Hemiptera order of “true bug” insects.
One of the main things that distinguishes bugs from other insects are their straw- or needle-shaped piercing mouths, which they use to suck fluids out of plants or prey. P. exophthalma had such a mouth, as do present-day members of the order such as cicadas, aphids, leafhoppers and bed bugs.
A paper on the research was recently published in the journal BioOne Complete.
Source: Oregon State University