Jurassic Insect Discovered Alive And Well At A Walmart

Dr. Michael Skvarla found a very rare giant lacewing, a Jurassic-era insect, at a Wal-Mart in Arkansas, marking the first time in 70 years the species was found in the Eastern United States.

By Jonathan Klotz | Published

A green lacewing

The Jurassic era occurred 145 million years ago, yet animals and insects from the period can still be found today in the form of crocodiles, sharks, snakes, and horseshoe crabs, among others. Still, it’s rare to find an ancient insect that hasn’t been seen in the eastern United States for nearly 70 years and was thought to be extinct at one point, hanging outside the entrance to an Arkansas Wal-Mart. CBS News shared the amazing story of Dr. Michael Skvarla finding what he thought was an antlion outside of the big box retailer before finding out 10 years later exactly how amazing his discovery was.

Dr. Skvarla is the director of Penn State University’s Insect Identification Lab, and he had plenty of good reasons not to think the large brown insect was anything special. In 2020, while teaching an online course over Zoom, the entomologist had the specimen under a microscope and was walking students through the different identifying features when he stopped dead in his tracks.

A student is quoted as saying “We were watching what Dr. Skvarla saw under his microscope and he’s talking about the features and then just kinda stops, we all realized together that the insect was not what it was labeled and was in fact a super-rare giant lacewing.”

Found in fossils dating back to the early Jurassic, the giant lacewing is one of the most primitive species of net-winged insects, notable for its significant wingspan. Dr. Skvarla’s specimen has a nearly two-inch wingspan, which may not sound like much, but for an insect, that’s a massive size. Despite the species’ ancient origins, the giant lacewing was found throughout North America until the 1950s, when it started vanishing.

Dr. Skvarla’s giant lacewing specimen

The Jurassic-era insect found outside a Wal-Mart is the first confirmed sighting in 50 years, with Dr. Skvarla explaining that the next closest sighting was 1,200 miles away. To help put the rarity in perspective, the giant lacewing only has three confirmed sightings in Montana, one of the regions where the species is supposed to live. It’s theorized that increased light pollution and changes to the soil along the eastern seaboard of the United States led to the slow disappearance of the giant lacewing.

While the confirmed finding of a Jurassic-era insect is amazing, scientists are still dealing with modern insects struggling to maintain ecosystems, resulting in unique solutions such as vaccinating bees against disease to prevent colony collapse. Other researchers are going into the past to find solutions for today, including going so far as to reconstruct ancient ecosystems. And now, thanks to The Last of Us, the wider public is aware of the threat fungus poses to insects.

The next time you’re out and about near a Wal-Mart, be extra careful when swatting any flying insects. There’s a chance that it could be an incredibly rare prehistoric insect. As Dr. Skvarla said to his students, he’s glad that the world is still a place of discovery and wonderment, filled with countless discoveries yet to be made.