A giant beetle ripped from the facade of an Arkansas Walmart has made history. Polystoechotes punctata (giant lacewing) is the first of its kind recorded in eastern North America in more than 50 years—and the first record of the species ever found in the state.
The giant lacewing was once widespread in North America, but in the 1950s it was extirpated from eastern North America. This discovery suggests that there may be a large population of this large, Jurassic-Era insect that has yet to be discovered, said Michael Skvarla, director of Penn State’s Entomology Lab.
Skvarla found the specimen in 2012, but made a mistake and only discovered its identity after teaching an online course based on his insect collection in 2020. He recently put together a paper about the discovery in Proceedings of the Entomological Society of Washington.
“I remember it vividly, because I was going into Walmart to get milk and I saw this big insect on the side of the building,” said Skvarla, who was a graduate student at the University of Arkansas at the time. “I thought it was interesting, so I put it on my hand and did the rest of my shopping with it between my fingers. I got home, put it on, and forgot about it for about ten years.”
It wasn’t until the COVID-19 pandemic that the giant lacewing got its time to shine. In the fall of 2020, with the world on lockdown, Skvarla is teaching Entomology 432: Insect Diversity and Evolution at Penn State. He taught laboratory courses via Zoom, with students following remotely on loaner microscopes, and used his insect collection as model specimens.
When he went to show off the features of a specimen he had previously labeled an “antlion,” Skvarla noticed that the behavior did not match that of a wasp-like insect. Instead, he thought it looked more like a lacewing. The giant lacewing has a wingspan of about 50 millimeters, which is quite large for an insect, which clearly indicates that the specimen is not an antlion, as Skvarla mistakenly labeled it. The students worked on comparing features—and researching—directly on Zoom.
“We were looking at what Dr. Skvarla saw under the microscope and he was talking about the features and then he just stopped,” said Codey Mathis, a doctoral candidate in biology at Penn State. “We all realized together that the valley was not what it was labeled as and in fact it was a big and exciting giant. I still remember the feeling. It was a joy to know that the excitement did not fade away. , surprisingly it’s not. lost. Here we’re doing real research in the middle of an online lab course.”
For further confirmation, Skvarla and his colleagues performed a genetic DNA analysis on the sample. Since its true identity was confirmed, Skvarla has kept the insect safely in the collection of the Frost Entomological Museum at Penn State, where scientists and students will have access to it for further research.
“It’s one of those things you don’t expect to find in a required research course,” said Louis Nastasi, a doctoral candidate studying biology at Penn State. “Here we were, looking at samples to identify them and suddenly, out of nowhere, this new amazing record popped up.”
Discovery or recovery?
The fact that a giant lacewing was spotted in the city of Fayetteville, Arkansas may reveal a larger story about biodiversity and climate change, Skvarla explained. He said the explanation for the disappearance of the giant lacewing from North America is mixed – and still remains a mystery.
Scientists have speculated that the insect’s disappearance may be due to increased artificial light and urban pollution; forest fires in eastern North America, if the valley depends on post-fire conditions; introducing non-native predators such as large ground beetles; and introduce non-native earthworms, which significantly change the composition of forest leaf litter and soil.
“Entomology can serve as a pointer to biology,” Skvarla said. “The fact that this insect has been spotted in an area that hasn’t been seen for more than half a century tells us something profound about the environment.”
The researchers analyzed several collections of lacewings, including archeological wells and community science presentations, and put them into a single map to determine their distribution. The records cover a large geographic range, from Alaska to Panama, and include several ecoregions in eastern and western North America. The map shows the Arkansas model is the first seen in eastern North America in more than 50 years.
Fayetteville is located in the Ozark Mountains, which are suspected to be the habitat of the species, according to Skvarla and co-author J. Ray Fisher of Mississippi State University’s Entomological Museum.
They said many species of insects, including 68 species of insects, are known from the Ozarks and at least 58 species of plants and animals are unique to the region. They state that the region is understudied compared to regions with similar biodiversity, such as the Southern Appalachians.
“This combination makes the area the perfect place for these insects to hide undetected,” they said.
The mystery remains about how the bug got to Walmart. The fact that it was found on the side of a lighted building at night indicates that it was likely attracted by the lights and that it may have flown at least a few hundred meters from where it originated, Skvarla said. “It could be 100 years since it was even in this area – and it’s been many years since it was found anywhere near it. The next place they were found was 1,200 miles away, so the hard to walk. far.”
The researchers noted that they suspect the new specimen represents some of the rare, living in the eastern part of the great lacewings that have escaped detection and extinction.
“The research doesn’t always hold the same understanding of people that maybe it did 100 years ago,” Nastasi said. “But a study like this shows that even in the current situation, there is still a lot of research to be done about insects.”
Michael J. Skvarla et al, Rediscovery of Polystoechotes punctata (Fabricius, 1793) (Neuroptera: Ithonidae) in Eastern North America, Proceedings of the Entomological Society of Washington (2022). DOI: 10.4289/0013-87184.108.40.2062
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hint: Rare insect found at Arkansas Walmart sets record, raises deep environmental questions (2023, February 27) Retrieved February 27, 2023 from https://phys.org/news/2023-02-rare -insec-arkansas-walmart-historic .html
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