“Always watching you”: a new insect discovered in amber had 360 degree vision!

CORVALLIS, Oregon — When it comes to human sight, no one literally has “eyes in the back of their head”. However, a recently discovered insect fossil apparently enjoyed 360 degrees vision!

With bulging eyes, an elongated mouth, and feet that ooze resin (to stick to surfaces), this bizarre creature is so unlike anything living on planet Earth today that scientists had to place it in its own category extinct!

George Poinar Jr., professor emeritus at Oregon State University College of Science, officially named the insect paleotanyrhinian proptosis (P. exophthalma). Preserved in a 100-million-year-old piece of amber from Myanmar, P. exophthalma is officially a member of the order Hemiptera, or a “true insect.”

“It is a small predator that used its protruding eyes to locate prey insects,” says Professor Poinar in a university outing.

Raised eye of Palaeotanyrhina exophthalma (Credit: Oregon State University)

From the same family as bed bugs and cicadas

Professor Poinar is an international expert in the examination of plant and animal life forms preserved in amber. It takes a look at the biology and ecology of the distant past.

Over 80,000 species make up the order Hemiptera, which is an ancient Greek word meaning “half-winged”. Some examples include aphids, leafhoppers, leafhoppers, bed bugs, cicadas, and shield bugs. Although sizes vary widely within the order, all of these insects share a similar arrangement of sucking mouthparts.

P. exophthalma, in particular, has a body length of just over five millimeters (0.2 inches). In particular, the insect shares certain characteristics with the Reduvided great family. This family includes an assassin insect and a kissing insect. However, the long lower mouth, head shape, and forewing veins of P. exophthalma make it ineligible for placement in any modern Reduvoidea family.

Thus, the researchers created a new extinct family: Palaeotanyrhinidae.

“Its eyes provided a clear 360-degree view of its habitat so it could see prey that might spawn from any side,” says Professor Poinar.

Poinar says the fossilized insect reminds him of George Orwell’s classic novel “1984” and the iconic phrase “Big brother is still watching you.” Finally, the study authors add that another strange feature of this fossil is an extended sheath over the last leg segment of the front tarsus.

“This sheath was filled with a resinous substance,” Professor Poinar concludes. “The sticky substance was produced by the dermal glands and helped the insect to grasp potential prey.”

The results are published in the journal BioOne Complete.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uqpTQre-Qc