CORVALLIS, Ore., Oct. 12 (UPI) — Scientists say a bizarre, wingless wasp, extinct for millions of years, is unlike any other. Found impeccably preserved in Burmese amber, Aptenoperissus burmanicus lived 100 million years ago in what’s now Myanmar’s Hukawng Valley.
The parasitic wasp is so unique, its discovery required scientists to create a new taxonomic family, Aptenoperissidae, of which it is the only member. Researchers placed the family under the order Hymenoptera, home of all modern bee and wasp species.
Scientists surmise the wasp crawled around the base of trees, searching for insects to prey upon and protected nooks where it could lay eggs.
“When I first looked at this insect I had no idea what it was,” George Poinar, Jr., a professor of integrative biology at Oregon State University, said in a news release. “You could see it’s tough and robust, and could give a painful sting. We ultimately had to create a new family for it, because it just didn’t fit anywhere else. And when it died out, this created an evolutionary dead end for that family.”
It wasn’t easy for scientists to agree on exactly what Aptenoperissus burmanicus was. Different scientists with different areas of expertise had very different interpretations.
“If you focused on its strong hind legs you could call it a grasshopper,” Poinar explained. “The antenna looked like an ant, the thick abdomen more like a cockroach. But the face looked mostly like a wasp, and we finally decided it had to be some kind of Hymenoptera.”
Researchers detailed their characterization of the one-of-a-kind wasp in the journal Cretaceous Research.
Because the wasp likely sought out small crevices and burrows to lay its eggs, wings may have been a hindrance, but scientists say its inability to fly may have else led to its eventual extinction.