Rare Giant Lacewing Found in Arkansas Walmart Parking Lot

Image of a fixed insect with large, clear wings

This giant lacewing (Polystoechotes punctata) was the first of its kind found in the eastern United States in more than 50 years—and the first ever in Arkansas.
picture: Michael Skvarla/Penn State.

A rare species that was once common But it was believed to have been extinct in the eastern United States for decadeshe was rediscovered hanging out at Walmart.

when Michael Skvarla He first picked up the large winged insect from the facade of a building in 2012, not knowing it was noticeable. He was doing ordinary nerd insect things. The entomologist, now a professor at Penn State, was working on his PhD at the time in Fayetteville, Arkansas. He and his wife had just driven to the local Wal-Mart just to do some shopping. On his way to the store, however, a bug perched on the outside wall catches his eye.

At first, he thinks the creature is an anteater—a relatively common type of flying insect with voracious, predatory larvae. “I was collecting antelopes at the time because I thought it was a neat collection,” he told Gizmodo in a phone call. So, as any self-respecting insect lover would, Skvarla carefully picked the animal by its translucent, intricately veined wings and carried it in one hand while he was getting his groceries. Once he got home, he killed the bug, mounted it, and stuck a pin in it—literally and figuratively. With the insect in his collection, “I forgot about it [about] 10 years, said the scientist.

Skvarla wasn’t teaching a virtual class on biodiversity in 2020 until he re-examined a 2012 Walmart discovery. Upon closer examination under a microscope, he realized the specimen wasn’t ants, but something much rarer: a giant lace (Polystoechotes punctata), a large, nocturnal insect that first appeared in the evolutionary record more than 100 million years ago during the Jurassic period.

His epiphany happened in real time in front of his students, while he shared tips on how to identify insects. With his ex-ID broken, Skvarla begins Googling to discover an alternative. Once I searched for “Giant Wings, Western US,” [a picture] He came up and was like, “There’s the thing that I’m looking at under a microscope,” he told Gizmodo.

Skvarla wasn’t a giant wing expert in 2012 and still doesn’t consider himself one. This internet search was based on vague memories and intuition. But that led to the confirmed discovery of the rare insect, which was historically believed to be extinct in the eastern United States. Before Skvarla’s lucky Wal-Mart pickup, a giant painter hadn’t been recorded in the eastern half of the country for more than 50 years. In Arkansas, this was the first time this species had been found.

“Once I found out what it was, it was really exciting. It is probably one of the most exciting specimens I have ever collected.” It just goes to show that, in entomology, “as long as you’re paying attention, you don’t have to be an expert in a group to make an important discovery.”

Skvarla has officially documented his discovery in a file The study was published in November 2022 and advertising in Pennsylvania press release this week.

In the paper, the entomologist confirmed his identification of the specimen based on its physical features and reviewed all previous giant lace records. He and his co-author combed through historical accounts, museum records, and photos of citizen scientists posted online to create a picture of the species’ past and present across North America.

They found striking descriptions of giant swarms of locusts—sometimes so locally numerous that in at least one incident in 1903 in Ontario, Canada, townspeople mistook the wave of insects flying over a building for smoke and called the firefighters. In upstate New York, a naturalist wrote in 1885 that giant pavilions were common and that “hundreds can be seen resting on the parlor walls” at any given time in the appropriate season. But mysteriously, relatively few insects have actually been collected. And between 1960 and 2012, not one was found or photographed in any US state or Canadian territory east of the western 100th meridian.

No one knows for sure why the Giant Wings in the East disappeared, Skvarla told Gizmodo. He added that this species has no special economic importance (that is, it is not a pest of a crop, a vector of diseases, or a beneficial natural enemy), so it has not been studied. Even scientists aren’t sure what the insects eat or what their larvae look like and where they live.

But some theories about the species’ eastern extinction include that light pollution or suppression of wildfires may have played a role. The giant wings are drawn to the light, which is what drew the Skvarla specimen to the Walmart parking lot. Some accounts have also suggested that insects are attracted to smoke—perhaps their poorly understood life cycle is somehow connected to the post-burn environment. The cause may also be the introduction of invasive species. But no matter the reason, the Giant Wings were considered non-existent in their former territories east of the Rocky Mountains for decades.

Obviously, Skvarla’s discovery suggests otherwise. In his view, Fayetteville giant pinworms almost certainly hatch locally, since the next closest known population is about 750 miles away. He believes that, in the poorly surveyed Ozark ecosystem, wingtips have been going on in small numbers and hitherto undetected. Perhaps, too, the 2012 discovery might indicate a resurgence—that is, that the pressure that drove the insects to local extinction has subsided—but no further sightings have been recorded since then in Arkansas or any other eastern state. “We have one sample now,” he said, “so it’s hard to draw any environmental assessment from that.”

“I suppose whatever population there may be is rather small, and I just got lucky,” he said. Still, Skvarla is optimistic that more elusive night flyers still exist in Arkansas. Although Fayetteville is much denser than it was in 2012, the park Skvarla theorized about came from undeveloped. “If it wasn’t crazy [outlier] Which blew up from the West somehow – if this is from a breeding clan – my guess is that [they’re] He said. “It went on for so long undetected that we haven’t seen it for another 10 years, which isn’t surprising.”


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