'Super-Rare' Bug Found at Walmart Stuns Experts

It's the first giant lacewing recorded in eastern North America in half a century
By Arden Dier,  Newser Staff
Posted Feb 28, 2023 10:30 AM CST
Updated Mar 4, 2023 12:10 PM CST
'Super-Rare' Bug Found at Walmart Stuns Experts
The giant lacewing collected by Michael Skvarla in Fayetteville, Arkansas in 2012.   (Michael Skvarla/Penn State)

Michael Skvarla, director of Penn State's Insect Identification Laboratory, was examining an insect in front of students over Zoom in the fall of 2020 when he froze. He'd just been explaining that this insect from his personal collection—plucked from the side of an Arkansas Walmart during a trip to buy milk in 2012—was an antlion, a predatory insect resembling a dragonfly. Now, in this moment, he knew he was wrong. "We all realized together that the insect was not what it was labeled and was in fact a super-rare giant lacewing," recalls Codey Mathis, a Penn State doctoral candidate in entomology, per a release. Super-rare, indeed. The Jurassic Era lacewing hadn't been recorded in eastern North America for half a century and had never been recorded in Arkansas.

"All of a sudden, out of nowhere, this incredible new record pops up," says doctoral candidate Louis Nastasi. Molecular DNA analyses confirmed the insect with a wingspan of roughly 2 inches to be a lacewing, which had mysteriously vanished from the eastern half of the continent by the 1950s. Yet its discovery in Fayetteville suggests more populations could be found in the east, even in urban environments—a startling realization as experts had linked the insect's disappearance to an increase in artificial light and pollution as a result of urbanization. There may be other factors as well, including the spread of non-native ground beetles, a predator, and earthworms, which significantly change the soil and forest floor on which the insects rely.

According to the study published in the Proceedings of the Entomological Society of Washington journal, the giant lacewing, or Polystoechotes punctata, "may have always been uncommon in eastern North America, or at least when insect collecting began in earnest in the late 1800s," though the discovery "suggests there may be relictual populations of this large, charismatic insect yet to be discovered." The understudied Ozark Mountains surrounding Fayetteville, home to at least 68 species of insects, is really "an ideal place for a large, showy insect to hide undetected," write Skvarla and co-author J. Ray Fisher of Mississippi State University. Skvarla's lacewing, undetected no longer, now rests in Penn State's Frost Entomological Museum, per Tech Explorist. (More insects stories.)

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