Polystoechotes punctata, a species of insect from a family that predates the dinosaurs, was discovered on the side of a big-box shop in Fayetteville.
When he was a PhD entomology student at the University of Arkansas in 2012, Michael Skvarla, the director of Pennsylvania State University’s Insect Identification Lab, discovered the Jurassic-era species, also known as a giant lacewing, while out shopping.
Skvarla stated in a statement, “I remember it vividly because I was walking into Walmart to get milk and I spotted this gigantic insect on the side of the building. “I put it in my hand because I thought it looked interesting and used it between my fingers to complete the remainder of my buying. I got home, mounted it, and promptly forgot about it for almost a decade.”
Skvarla originally mistook the lacewing for an antlion, an insect that resembles a dragonfly and has some similarities to the lacewing, including long translucent wings. But in the fall of 2020, when he showed the insect to his online entomology class, he discovered that what he had been holding onto all those years was something more rarer and more spectacular.
He conducted additional Genetic tests to confirm the insect’s identity, and the enormous lacewing is currently housed in the Frost Entomological Museum at Penn State.
According to a report Skvarla coauthored and was published in the Proceedings of the Entomological Society of Washington, the enormous lacewing disappeared from eastern North America in the 1950s, where it had previously been common. Experts believed that the species had been wiped out.
The lacewing was very recently discovered in Arkansas, and this is the state’s first instance of the species.
According to Skvarla, entomology can serve as a precursor to ecology. The discovery of this bug in a location where it had not been observed for more than 50 years reveals more information about the ecosystem.
The story claims that although efforts to put out natural forest fires in eastern North America are thought to have contributed to the bug’s strange departure, the bigger mystery is how the fly wound up at a superstore in a populated area of Arkansas.
“The last time (the species) was even in this area could have been 100 years ago, and years have passed since it was last seen nearby. It is quite implausible that it would have travelled so far given that the next location to where they were located was 1,200 miles distant, “said Skvarla. He asserted that the lacewing was drawn to the lights and took off at least a few hundred metres from its previous location.
Skvarla’s discovery has paved the way for additional lacewing discoveries as bug lovers check their own collections and look for the species in the wild in new places, according to Dr. Floyd Shockley, the department of entomology’s collections manager at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History.
“Anytime you find an insect species not where you expect it to be, it has a lot of consequences for our understanding of that species — the sort of distribution it has, the kind of ecology that it might need to complete its life cycle,” Shockley said. It implies that something we believed to be extinct, at least from the Eastern States, may still exist but is only concealed in a few places.
The Smithsonian collection or the one at Penn State, where the lacewing is housed, are important examples of museum collections, according to Shockley, as they “help to preserve diverse snapshots of biodiversity over time and lets us to observe what is happening and why it is happening.”
“Everyone always seems to concentrate on the large animals and creatures, such as large birds. Yet this is a world of insects. We are only surviving on it “explained Shockley. “It is crucial to have this kind of appreciation. And one of the best things about insects is that you may observe such a wide variety of them in your backyard.”