A wingless wasp stuck in amber about 100 million years ago is a family unto itself, with no other family like it in insect history. So say Russian, English and American researchers who have written about the evolutionary last-stop insect in a study in the journal Cretaceous Research.
The curious bug, found in Myanmar's Hukawng Valley, had hind legs reminiscent of a grasshopper, antennae like ants, and the abdomen of a cockroach and gave the researchers quite a challenge in determining its taxonomic place.
Finally, though, they decided the insect's face looked closest to a wasp, so they created for it a new family of one, Aptenoperissidae, within the larger Hymenoptera insect order containing wasps and modern bees.
Study co-author George Poinar, Jr., an Oregon State University professor emeritus and expert on amber-encased animals, said he had no idea what kind of bug he was looking at, on first glance.
"You could see it's tough and robust, and could give a painful sting," Poinar, Jr. said in a statement. "We ultimately had to create a new family for it, because it just didn't fit anywhere else."
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The amber-entombed insect was a female. Being parasitic, the researchers say she would have spent her time on the ground burrowing into cavities in search of the pupae of other insects in which she could deposit her eggs.
Her long legs, the scientists say, would have helped her climb back out of those burrows.
Such life habits likely played a role in the insect's lack of wings: Going in and out of those tight spaces would have made wings cumbersome.
The wasp was also likely a strong jumper, thanks again to the "grasshopper" legs. Her stinger, meanwhile, was sharp enough for attacking beetles.
For all of those skills, though, the unusual wasp went extinct. The researchers can't say for sure why it did, suggesting disease, loss of habitable living space, and the inability to fly as potential factors.
Whatever the reason, it was literally the end of the line. "When it died out, this created an evolutionary dead end for that family," said Poinar, Jr.
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