Insect, Lost and Found
A scientist discovered an insect in a part of the world where it hasn’t been seen for years.
Michael Skvarla/Penn State
For an insect, the giant lacewing is a giant. Its wingspan is about 2 inches (6 centimeters).
Wow! A scientist in the U.S. state of Arkansas discovered a giant insect that hasn’t been seen in the eastern part of North America in more than 60 years.
The discovery took place in 2012. Michael Skvarla, who is an entomologist (a scientist who studies insects), was at Walmart to buy some milk. He spotted the winged insect on the wall of the building and took it home with him. Skvarla thought he had found a type of insect called an antlion.
In 2020, Skvarla was teaching a class online and decided to show his class the insect he found at Walmart. He put the insect (which was no longer alive) under a microscope so his students could study it. He told his students it was an antlion. But as Skvarla studied the insect closely, he realized it wasn’t an antlion. In fact, it was a very rare giant lacewing.
“We all realized together that the insect was not what it was labeled,” Skvarla said. “Here we were, making a true discovery.”
Giant lacewings have been around for much longer than humans. They first appeared during the Jurassic Period, which began 200 million years ago! That means giant lacewings were flying around while dinosaurs roamed Earth.
But that’s not the only amazing thing about this discovery. Giant lacewings were last seen in eastern North America in the 1950s. Scientists thought that the whole eastern North American population of giant lacewings had died out.
So, why was a giant lacewing hanging around Walmart in 2012? Skvarla isn’t sure. It might have hitched a ride on a ship. But it’s possible that there are still some giant lacewings in eastern North America—they just haven’t been found yet!