Giant Lacewing Rediscovered After 50 Years in Arkansas Walmart Parking Lot

In 2012, Michael Skvarla, director of Penn State’s Insect Identification Lab, found a large, mysterious insect on the façade of a Walmart store in Fayetteville, Arkansas.

He collected it and stored it in his insect collection for almost a decade until he rediscovered it during an online entomology course in 2020.

The specimen was not an antlion, as he had initially labeled it, but instead, it was a rare Polystoechotes punctata or giant lacewing, the first of its kind recorded in eastern North America in over 50 years.

The Discovery of a Lifetime

Giant lacewings were once widespread across North America, but by the 1950s, they were mysteriously extirpated from eastern North America.

Skvarla’s discovery of the specimen suggests that there may be relic populations of this large, Jurassic-Era insect yet to be discovered.

According to Codey Mathis, a doctoral candidate in entomology at Penn State, the moment when Skvarla’s online students realized that the insect was actually a super-rare giant lacewing was unforgettable.

Mathis mentioned that discovering the truth about the insect’s identity during an online lab course was incredibly satisfying and reinforced the idea that excitement and wonder can still be found in unexpected places.

To confirm the true identity of the specimen, Skvarla and his colleagues performed molecular DNA analyses.

The giant lacewing was safely deposited in the collections of the Frost Entomological Museum at Penn State, where scientists and students can access it for further research.

Environmental Implications

Skvarla believes that the discovery of the giant lacewing in an urban area like Fayetteville may reveal a larger story about biodiversity and a changing environment.

It turns out that the disappearance of some insects might not be just a natural occurrence after all.

Scientists have been scratching their heads over the mysterious vanishing of some insects, and they’ve come up with a few theories.

One possible reason is the increase in artificial light and pollution in urban areas.

Another theory suggests that the insects, if they rely on post-fire environments, may be suffering due to the suppression of forest fires in eastern North America.

Non-native predators, such as large ground beetles, could also be taking a bite out of the insect population.

And to top it off, the introduction of non-native earthworms has significantly altered the composition of forest leaf litter and soil, which could be affecting the insect’s ability to thrive.

Skvarla and his co-author, J. Ray Fisher of the Mississippi Entomological Museum at Mississippi State University, analyzed extensive collection records of giant lacewings, including museum holdings and community science submissions.

After compiling extensive collection records of giant lacewings, including museum holdings and community science submissions, Skvarla and Fisher created a single map to analyze their distribution across a wide geographic range.

It included territories from Alaska to Panama, covering multiple ecoregions in eastern and western North America.

The map showed that the giant lacewing found in Arkansas was the first one spotted in eastern North America in over 50 years.

The Ozark Mountains, where the insect was discovered, are suspected to be a biodiversity hotspot, with dozens of endemic species, including 68 insect species, and at least 58 plant and animal species having highly disjunct populations in the region.

According to Skvarla and Fisher, the area is not as well studied as other regions with similar biodiversity, like the Southern Appalachians.

Similar Discoveries

This isn’t the first time in recent years that such a momentous advancement has been recorded in understanding Jurassic-Era specimens.

In 2020, Scientists in China have discovered a new species of feathered dinosaur that lived 120 million years ago.

The dinosaur, named Wulong bohaiensis, had short arms and was about the size of a turkey, with a long tail and feathers covering its body.

The researchers believe that it may have been able to glide through the air, although it was not a true flyer like modern birds.

The discovery of Wulong bohaiensis is significant because it adds to our understanding of the evolution of dinosaurs and their transition to birds.

The well-preserved fossils reveal that the dinosaur had feathers on its wings and tail, which may have been used for display, insulation, or even flight.

The discovery also highlights the importance of China in the study of dinosaur evolution, as the country has been a hotspot for fossil discoveries in recent years.

The discovery of the giant lacewing in an Arkansas Walmart parking lot is a remarkable find.

Skvarla’s experience demonstrates that there is still much to learn about the biodiversity of North America.

In 2012, Michael Skvarla, director of Penn State’s Insect Identification Lab, found a rare Polystoechotes punctata or giant lacewing on the façade of a Walmart store in Fayetteville, Arkansas, the first of its kind recorded in eastern North America in over 50 years.

The potential rediscovery of this species may have broader implications for the environment, suggesting that there are still relic populations of large, Jurassic-Era insects yet to be discovered.

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Article In a Snapshot

  • In 2012, Michael Skvarla, director of Penn State’s Insect Identification Lab, found a rare Polystoechotes punctata or giant lacewing on the façade of a Walmart store in Fayetteville, Arkansas, the first of its kind recorded in eastern North America in over 50 years.
  • Skvarla’s discovery suggests that there may be relic populations of this large, Jurassic-Era insect yet to be discovered, and that the Ozark Mountains, where Fayetteville is located, may be a biodiversity hotspot.
  • Scientists believe that the insect’s disappearance could be due to the increase in artificial light and pollution in urban areas, the suppression of forest fires, the introduction of non-native predators, and the alteration of forest leaf litter and soil due to non-native earthworms.
  • The specimen was confirmed to be a giant lacewing through molecular DNA analyses and was safely deposited in the collections of the Frost Entomological Museum at Penn State for further research.
  • This discovery, along with other recent Jurassic-Era specimen discoveries, suggests that there is still much to learn about the biodiversity and evolution of North America and its ancient inhabitants.

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