Giant flying bug found on Walmart’s site turns out to be ‘super rare’ insect from the Jurassic period

On a routine trip to a Walmart in Arkansas to pick up milk, a university scientist made a historically flawed discovery.

Michael Skvarla, director of Penn State University’s Insect Identification Lab, found a mysterious large insect outside the Fayetteville superchain building — an experience he remembers “vividly.”

“I saw this huge insect on the side of the building,” he said in a press release from Penn State. “I thought it looked interesting, so I picked it up and did the rest of my shopping with it between my fingers. I came home, assembled it and immediately forgot about it for almost a decade.”

Little did he know that years later, the giant flying beetle was a “super rare” insect from the Jurassic period.

A Zoom call lesson

The scientist originally thought the bug he plucked from the outside of the Walmart was a ant lion. According to the Missouri Department of Conservationthe insects have:

  • Fragile, sad maidens

  • Elongated body

  • Four intricately veined wings mottled with brown and black

  • Antennae club-shaped or curved, about as long as head and thorax combined

Enter Fall 2020: Skvarla was teaching an online course on insect biodiversity and evolution and during a Zoom call he realized it wasn’t what he originally thought.

The insect, he learned, was a real talking point.

“We observed what Dr. Skvarla under his microscope, and he was talking about the features and then kind of stopped,” said Codey Mathis, a graduate student in entomology at Penn State University.

“We all realized together that the insect wasn’t what it was called, but a super rare giant lacewing. I still remember the feeling. It was so gratifying to know that the excitement is not letting up, the amazement is not lost. Here we made a real discovery in the middle of an online internship.”

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This Polystoechotes punctata, or giant lacewing, was collected in Fayetteville, Arkansas in 2012 by Michael Skvarla, director of Penn State's Insect Identification Lab.

This Polystoechotes punctata, or giant lacewing, was collected in Fayetteville, Arkansas in 2012 by Michael Skvarla, director of Penn State’s Insect Identification Lab.

Skvarla and his colleagues then ran DNA tests on the sample to confirm its true identity.

After confirmation, he safely deposited the insect in the collections of the Frost Entomological Museum in Penn State, where scientists and students can access it for further research.

“It was one of those experiences that you don’t expect to find in a prerequisite lab course,” said Louis Nastasi, a graduate student studying entomology at the university. “Here we were, just looking at specimens to identify them, and suddenly, out of nowhere, this incredible new record pops up.”

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Discovery or Recovery?

A giant lacewing spotted in an urban Arkansas area likely reveals a larger story about biodiversity and a changing environment, Skvarla said. Explanations for the disappearance of the giant lacewing from North America vary, he said, and still remain largely a mystery.

Scientists, according to the press release, theorize that the insect’s disappearance may be the result of ever-increasing amounts of artificial light and pollution from urbanization; Suppression of wildfires in eastern North America when the insects rely on post-fire environments; the introduction of non-native predators such as large ground beetles; and the introduction of non-native earthworms, which significantly altered the composition of foliage and soil in the forest.

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Natalie Neysa Alund covers trending news for USA TODAY. Reach her at and follow her on Twitter @nataliealund.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: The giant flying bug found at Walmart is a “super rare” insect from the Jurassic period Giant flying bug found on Walmart’s site turns out to be ‘super rare’ insect from the Jurassic period

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