A weird new species of ancient predatory cockroach has been discovered preserved in amber.
The cockroach is thought to have lived 100 million years ago, and it looks little like its modern relatives.
After the first look I knew it was something new
The tiny monster, measuring just under 1 cm, hosts a weird amalgam of unique features making it look like a chimera of a crane fly, a praying mantis and a cockroach.
The discovery adds to the number of ferocious cockroaches known to have lived in prehistoric times.
The new specimen Manipulator modificaputis belongs to an ancient family of cockroaches, called the Manipulatoridae.
It has a triangular, manoeuvrable head, with large eyes, set upon a long neck, features that likely helped it hunt its prey. The cockroach also had a narrow body and wings, elongated legs and mouthparts, and an extra set of modified eyes located on the top of its head, which likely helped it spot predators, such as the feathered dinosaurs living at the time.
This little monster was a solitary hunter
The cockroach was found preserved in amber by German researcher Ziggi Ellenberger in modern day Myanmar.
At first, scientists thought the cockroach might have been a mantis.
But an examination by Dr Peter Vršanský, from the Geological Institute of Bratislava and the Slovak Academy of Sciences revealed it to be something different. “After the first look I knew it was something new,” he told BBC Earth. “Nothing similar runs on Earth today.”
Vršanský made the discovery, reported in the journal Geologica Carpathica along with Günter Bechly, from the State Museum of Natural History in Stuttgart, Germany.
They believe the cockroach hunted at night.
“This little monster was a solitary hunter, able to run very fast, with a body unlike the vast majority of cockroaches living today, it posed high above ground, frequently taking flight when necessary, and seizing its prey with strong short spines developed on its extremely long feet,” he adds.
Not all scientists agree on the cockroach’s hunting skills though. Manipulator had long and weak legs, and was unlikely to run fast, says Dr Alexandr Rasnitsyn, a professor from the Palaeontological Institute, at the Russian Academy of Sciences.
He thinks it was more likely to surprise rather than chase its prey, using its long limbs to traverse gaps between forest leaves.
The new discovery in among a number of ancient cockroaches found in Myanmar.
Many were predatory insects that evolved to rule the night. “Especially drastic and brutal were top predatory Raphidiomimidae. Cockroaches with a wingspan up to 20cm and eyes divided into two parts, with gut containing large pieces of demolished insects,” says Vršanský.
Most of these ferocious lineages went extinct, however, with only one lineage surviving today: the praying mantis, which belongs to the same superorder of the cockroaches.