An unlikely discovery was made in an Arkansas Walmart parking lot – a very Jurassic-era huge insect.
However, to realize just how big it was took more than a decade.
Back in 2012, Michael Skvarla, director of Penn State University’s Insect Identification Lab, went shopping at a Fayetteville, Arkansas, Walmart. There, as he was going in, he saw something unlikely.
“I was walking into Walmart to get milk and I saw this huge insect on the side of the building. I thought it looked interesting, so I put it in my hand and did the rest of my shopping with it between my fingers. I got home, mounted it, and promptly forgot about it for almost a decade,” he recounts in the press release announcing the discovery.
Then, in the fall of 2020, as he was holding an online course on insect evolution, he brought the insect to show to students – and realized it wasn’t an antlion as he initially thought. As he and his students were examining the insect under the microscope, they quickly realized that they were looking at an entirely different species.
After sending the insect to a lab to conduct molecular analyses on it, it was confirmed it was a giant lacewing (Polystoechotes Punctata), a Jurassic Era insect not seen for decades.
Once found all over the US, by the 1950s giant lacewings had disappeared from eastern North America, with many blaming light pollution and new potential predators for their disappearance.
According to Skvarla, the Arkansas specimen is the first specimen recorded in eastern North America in over 50 years, and the discovery is incredible for the region.
“The next closest place that they’ve been found was 1,200 miles away, so very unlikely it would have traveled that far,” he said.
You can read more about his research here.
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