Jurassic Era Insect Discovered at Walmart in Fayetteville, Arkansas
A species of insect that predates the dinosaurs was identified at a Walmart in Fayetteville, Arkansas, after being spotted by Michael Skvarla, director of Penn State’s Insect Identification Lab.
Skvarla, who was a doctoral student at the University of Arkansas at the time, recalled the incident vividly. “I remember it vividly, because I was walking into Walmart to get milk and I saw this huge insect on the side of the building,” Skvarla said in a statement. I was intrigued by its appearance, so I picked it up and continued my shopping while holding it in my hand. When I arrived home, I hung it up and it was nearly forgotten for almost ten years.
The insect, known as a giant lacewing, had been widespread across North America but was mysteriously extirpated from eastern North America by the 1950s. This discovery suggests there may be relic populations of this large, Jurassic-Era insect yet to be discovered.
In 2012, Skvarla located a specimen, however, he mislabeled it and only realized its real identity after instructing an online course based on his own insect collection in 2020. He recently co-authored a paper about the discovery in the Proceedings of the Entomological Society of Washington.
Codey Mathis, a PhD candidate in entomology at Penn State, reported that they were looking at what Dr. Skvarla was observing through his microscope. Dr. Skvarla was describing the features of what he was seeing and then suddenly stopped. “We all realized together that the insect was not what it was labelled and was in fact a super-rare giant lacewing.”
After performing molecular DNA analyses on the insect, it was confirmed it was a giant lacewing (Polystoechotes Punctata), a Jurassic Era insect not seen for decades. Skvarla and his colleagues published a paper about the discovery in the Proceedings of the Entomological Society of Washington.
It is hypothesized by scientists that the vanishing of the insect may be caused by the rise in artificial light and pollution brought on by urbanization; the prevention of forest fires in eastern North America, if the insects depend on post-fire environments; the introduction of non-native predators, such as large ground beetles; and the introduction of non-native earthworms which has drastically changed the makeup of forest leaf litter and soil.
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