A Pennsylvania State University professor found a Jurassic-Era insect near a Walmart in Fayetteville, Arkansas that hasn’t been seen in North America in more than 50 years.
According to a press release from Penn State, this is the first documented appearance of the species in Arkansas.
Michael Skvarla, director of the university’s Insect Identification Lab, found the Polystoechotes punctata, or giant lacewing, back in 2012 when he was a doctoral student at the University of Arkansas. He thought it might be a different insect, and only learned which species it was in 2020, while teaching an online course based on his personal insect collection, according to a Monday press release.
“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,” said Skvarla. “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.”
Skvarla originally labeled the insect as an antlion but noticed its wingspan was too large for an antlion, according to the release. He and his students later identified it as the giant lacewing.
Skvarla has since taken the insect to the Frost Entomological Museum at Penn State.
“It was one of those experiences you don’t expect to have in a prerequisite lab course,” Louis Nastasi, a doctoral candidate studying entomology at Penn State. “Here we were, just looking at specimens to identify them and all of a sudden, out of nowhere, this incredible new record pops up.”
According to Skvarla, it isn’t clear why the lacewing disappeared from North America. Scientists have pointed to a a number of possible contributing factors: increase in artificial light and pollution, suppressed forest fires, or the introduction of non-native species.
How the insect found its way to the Walmart also remains a mystery.