FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. (KNWA/KFTA) — A Pennsylvania State University professor found a Jurassic-Era insect near a Walmart in Fayetteville that hasn’t been seen in North America in more than 50 years.
According to a press release from Penn State, this is the first record of the species in Arkansas.
The release says Michael Skvarla, director of the university’s Insect Identification Lab, found the Polystoechotes punctata, or giant lacewing, in 2012, but misidentified it and only discovered its true identity after teaching an online course based on his personal insect collection in 2020. Skvarla was a doctoral student at the University of Arkansas when he found the insect.
“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. “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.”
Skvarla originally labeled the insect as an antlion but noticed its wingspan was too large for an antlion, according to the release.
The release says Skvarla and his students then got to work comparing features and a discovery was made.
Skvarla has since taken the insect to the Frost Entomological Museum at Penn State where scientists and students will have access to it for more research.
“It was one of those experiences you don’t expect to have in a prerequisite lab course,” 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.”
More on the insect’s discovery can be found here.