Walmart has almost everything on its shelves. Few other retailers can claim to have as much as Walmart offers to their customers. But now Walmart shoppers in Arkansas are shocked to learn that the giant retailer may also be home to a giant Jurassic-era insect that had gone missing from the eastern part of North America for more than fifty years after locals discovered the disturbing species of giant lacewing outside of the Walmart location in Fayetteville in 2012.
The insect was discovered by Professor Michael Skvarla, a zoologist who works at the Insect Identification Lab at Penn State University.
The professor found the “large, charismatic” giant lacewing outside of the Fayetteville, Arkansas, Walmart location. The ancient insect is also known by its Latin name Polystoechotes punctata. The species of insect has been known to the world for a long time after Danish zoologist Johan Fabricius identified it in 1793. However, the bug had been missing from eastern North America for fifty years at the time of Professor Skvarla’s discovery.
Originally, Professor Skvarla thought the giant lacewing was an antlion, which is a predatory insect that lures prey into death traps. While the professor discovered the bug outside of the Walmart in 2012, he did not discover the bug’s true identity until 2020. Now, he has co-authored a paper about the discovery published in the Proceedings of the Entomological Society of Washington.
“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, who was a doctoral student at the University of Arkansas at the time he discovered the ancient bug outside of the Walmart. “I thought it looked interesting, so I put it in my hand and did the rest of my shopping with it between my fingers.”
Professor Skvarla killed the specimen when he returned home and mounted it. He then forgot about it for nearly a decade.
“I killed the specimen when I got home using a kill jar, which is a standard piece of equipment in entomology for dispatching insects,” he told MailOnline. “Basically, a jar with some plaster in the bottom that is impregnated with acetone, ethanol, or another substance that kills insects quickly. After that, I pinned it and kept it in my collection.”
Although no one knows how the ancient bug wound up outside of the Arkansas Walmart at night, some believe it was attracted to the building’s bright outdoor lights. It might have flown to the building from hundreds of feet away.
“I wasn’t sure what species of antlion it might be,” he told MailOnline. “There are a number that occurs in Arkansas, and it’s not a group I’m familiar with.”
In 2020, the professor was using his collection of insect specimens to teach a class via Zoom. That’s when he noticed that his “antlion” did not have the same characteristics as the predatory dragonfly-like insect.
“We all realized together that the insect was not what it was labeled and was in fact a super-rare giant lacewing.”