Alien-looking 'E.T.' insect found trapped in ancient amber

Researchers discover a very strange old creature that looks like it should be trying to phone home.

Amanda Kooser
Freelance writer Amanda C. Kooser covers gadgets and tech news with a twist for CNET. When not wallowing in weird gear and iPad apps for cats, she can be found tinkering with her 1956 DeSoto.
Amanda Kooser
2 min read

Meet Aethiocarenus burmanicus. It's a 100-million-year-old insect from Myanmar trapped in a glob of amber. It has a triangular head with two bulging eyes that make it look a bit like the alien star of the 1982 sci-fi hit " E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial." The insect is so different, it was given its own scientific order: Aethiocarenodea.

"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," said Oregon State University entomologist George Poinar, Jr, co-author of a study published online in Cretaceous Research in late December and scheduled for the journal's April 2017 issue.

Poinar is the one who drew a connection between the insect's appearance and that of E.T. "When I first saw this fossil, I couldn't believe my eyes. I thought it had to be an alien," he said.

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The researchers believe the extinct insect was most likely an omnivore and would have been able to see behind itself thanks to its unusual head. Poinar says he created a Halloween mask that resembled the alien-looking insect noggin, but had to take it off because it was scaring young trick-or-treaters.

Researchers discovered one other insect specimen, also trapped in amber and similar to this one. That means the order Aethiocarenodea consists of just two known samples of the species.

We've previously caught up with Poinar's amber-related research, which includes studies on a salamander, a flea, a new plant species and a spider attacking a wasp.

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