Mystery arises over ‘Jurassic-era’ insect discovered in Walmart

It's called a giant lacewing.
Loukia Papadopoulos
An image of the rare insect.jpg
An image of the rare insect.

Penn State 

An insect discovered in an Arkansas Walmart has set historic records. Called a Polystoechotes punctata or giant lacewing, it is the first of its kind spotted in eastern North America in over 50 years and the first record of the species ever in the state.

This is according to a press release by Penn State University published on Monday.

The insect was found by Michael Skvarla, director of Penn State’s Insect Identification Lab, in 2012. Skvarla initially misidentified the specimen and only discovered its true identity after teaching an online course based on his personal insect collection in 2020. 

“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 was a doctoral student at the University of Arkansas at the time. 

“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.”

In the fall of 2020, Skvarla was teaching Entomology 432: Insect Biodiversity and Evolution at Penn State via Zoom and using his own personal insect collection as specimen samples. It was with the help of his students online that he discovered he had accidentally labeled it an “antlion.”

“We were watching what Dr. Skvarla saw under his microscope, and he’s talking about the features and then just kinda stops,” said Codey Mathis, a doctoral candidate in entomology at Penn State. 

A super-rare discovery

“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.”

Skvarla and his colleagues proceeded to perform molecular DNA analyses on the specimen that confirmed its true identity. Since then, the specimen has been deposited in the collections of the Frost Entomological Museum at Penn State.

“It was one of those experiences you don’t expect to have in a prerequisite lab course,” said 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.”

Add Interesting Engineering to your Google News feed.
Add Interesting Engineering to your Google News feed.
message circleSHOW COMMENT (1)chevron
Job Board