Do not be alarmed by this heavily armed, parasitic wasp that bears no close relationship to any other organism, and is such a badarse that it apparently traded flying for leaping like a grasshopper. Mercifully, Aptenoperissus burmanicus went extinct a long time ago. Image: Oregon State University
Encased in 100-million year old amber, this spectacularly well-preserved wasp was unearthed in the Hukawng Valley in Myanmar, one of the richest deposits of Cretaceous fossils on Earth. The creature is so unusual in appearance that scientists spent a long time debating whether it was a wasp at all, with some arguing that it has the brawny hind limbs of a grasshopper. Others claimed that it has the armoured belly of a cockroach.
Eventually, Oregon State University biologist George Poinar deemed the chimeric monster to be some kind of Hymenoptera, the insect order comprising wasps, bees and ants. "The face looked mostly like a wasp," Poinar explained in a statement, adding that his team had to create an entirely new family, Aptenoperissidae, because the creature "just didn't fit anywhere else."
Writing in Cretaceous Research, Poinar and his colleagues identify their specimen as a female. They speculate that she might have used her long legs to burrow in and out of cavities in the ground, laying eggs inside the developing pupae of other insects. When her unfortunate victims attempted to muster a defence, A. burmanicus probably attacked with that sharp, jagged stinger, using her springboard legs to jump out of harm's way. Wings would have been a hindrance, the researchers say.
On the one hand, it's a shame that such a gnarly predator winked out of existence millions of years ago, with no living relatives to carry on its vicious lifestyle. Then again, consider the fact that any surviving descendants would have not only pulled through the Cretaceous mass extinction, but enjoyed another 66 million years of evolution, to boot. I'm not sure I'd want to live in their world.