Rare insect rediscovered at Arkansas Walmart 50 years after extinction
A trip to Walmart prompted the rediscovery of a giant lacewing which was presumed extinct for over 50 years for unknown reasons.
The Polystoechotes punctata (giant lacewing) was recorded in an Arkansas Walmart. The insect had been presumed extinct for over 50 years due to unknown reasons. This rediscovery records the first ever of its kind to be recorded in eastern North America in over 50 years.
Michael Skvarl, an entomologist, went to a Walmart in Fayetteville, Arkansas only to notice a strange-looking insect on its building side. He was a doctoral student at the time of his discovery. Even though it appeared to be a common flying insect, however, he was intrigued by its massive size, and collected it.
“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, who is now the director of Penn State’s Insect Identification Lab.
“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.”
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Skvarla was showing his collection or a curriculum while teaching an online course when he noticed that the Walmart insect looked more like a lacewing than an antlion---but with a massive two inches wingspan.
“We were watching what Dr. Skvarla saw under his microscope and he’s talking about the features and then just kinda stops,” Codey Mathis, a doctoral candidate in entomology at Penn State, said.
“We all realized together that the insect was not what it was labeled and was in fact a super-rare giant lacewing. I still remember the feeling. It was so gratifying to know that the excitement doesn’t dim. The wonder isn’t lost. Here we were making a true discovery in the middle of an online lab course.”
Molecular DNA analysis was performed on the insect where the Walmart bug was found in Ozark Mountains, an area presumed to be a hotspot for biodiversity. Skvarla found that the area was understudied compared to others that possess a similar rate of biodiversity.
"It could have been 100 years since it was even in this area—and it's been years since it's been spotted anywhere near it. The next closest place that they've been found was 1,200 miles away, so very unlikely it would have traveled that far,” Skvarla said of its discovered location at a Walmart in Fayetteville.
Giant lacewings were recorded in Alaska and Panama, but not in the eastern part of the world for about 50 years.
“The fact that this insect was spotted in a region that it hasn’t been seen in over half a century tells us something more broadly about the environment.”, Skvarla pointed out.
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