Like many young children, I went through a phase of being obsessed with dinosaurs. I think the appeal is the idea that these monstrous animals actually existed, but are also safely locked away in the past and can’t hurt you.
Now, a new discovery by George Poinar Jr of Oregon State University shows that the dinosaurs weren’t the only monsters from the Cretacous period. He’s found a well-preserved specimen of a fly with five eyes and a horn, and it’s certainly going to give me nightmares.
Details of the strange creature were recently published in the journal Cretaceous Research. It’s called Cascoplecia insolitis, roughly translated as “old and unusual”. It’s certainly an apt description, as it lived from 97 to 100 million years ago and is anything but “usual” looking.
Two of the fly’s five eyes are large and compound, like a regular household fly. The other three are smaller like a spider’s and sit atop a strange, unicorn-like horn.
It’s thought that this evolutionary specialism would have helped it see approaching predators more easily. The eye-covered horn would also aid the fly on reaching the pollen and nectar of very tiny flowers, but would have been a hindrance when larger plants evolved. With its freakish advantage lost, C. insolitis went extinct, and as far as we know its unique horn has never been seen again.
“No other insect ever discovered has a horn like that, and there’s no animal at all with a horn that has eyes on top,” said Poinar.
“One of the reviewers of the study called it a monster, and I have to admit it had a face only another fly could have loved. I was thinking of making some masks based on it for Halloween.”
I don’t know about that. If this thing rang my door screaming “trick or treat”, I’d probably run a mile. Give me dinosaurs any day!
Poinar Jr., G. (2009). Cascoplecia insolitis (Diptera: Cascopleciidae), a new family, genus, and species of flower-visiting, unicorn fly (Bibionomorpha) in Early Cretaceous Burmese amber Cretaceous Research DOI: 10.1016/j.cretres.2009.09.007