Large insect from Jurassic-era found near Walmart in UStext_fields
Arkansas: A Penn State University scientist has identified an insect dating back to the Jurassic period. What is surprising is that he found the rare specimen hiding in plain sight and has been misidentifying it for years.
The species was abundant in the age of dinosaurs but disappeared from North America. The new discovery has led to speculations that the Ozark mountains may be hiding entire populations. The specimen was found clinging to the side of a Walmart big box.
According to the press release from the university, scientist Michael Skvarla spotted the large insect nearby a Walmart while he was out shopping in 2012. He thought it was an antlion. Years later, close inspection revealed that the insect is a giant lacewing.
He was a doctoral student at the University of Arkansas at the time. "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. 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 also incorrectly labelled it as an antlion in his personal collection because the two insects share similar features.
According to Skvarla who is now the director of the university's Insect Identification Lab, the bug has not been seen in eastern North America for 50 years. What led to their disappearance has been a mystery and possible explanations are light pollution, urbanisation, and the introduction of non-native species. The suppression of forest fires is also a likely factor because giant lacewings thrive on post-fire ecosystems.
The wide wingspan of the insect piqued his curiosity which led to further research. The insect's wingspan was nearly two inches across. The moment of discovery happened during an online class when he was sharing the findings with students. "We were watching what Dr. Skvarla saw under his microscope and he's talking about the features and then just kinda stops," said a student.
He was teaching a class on biodiversity in late 2020.
Skvarla and other experts went on to perform molecular DNA analysis on the insect to confirm its classification. He thinks the specimen could be part of a population that evaded "detection and extinction."
He has co-authored a paper about the discovery.