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Scientists stunned after rediscovering Jurassic-era creature outside Walmart: ‘What is this thing?’

“This discovery suggests there may be relictual populations of this large, charismatic insect yet to be discovered.”

"This discovery suggests there may be relictual populations of this large, charismatic insect yet to be discovered."

Photo Credit: iStock

The giant lacewing, long thought to be extinct in eastern North America, was recently confirmed rediscovered years after one was found outside a Walmart in Fayetteville, Arkansas, in 2012, The New York Times reported.

The paper called the Jurassic Era creature “a dragonfly-like predator” and noted it took eight years for the collector to realize what it was. Michael Skvarla, head of the Insect Identification Laboratory at Penn State University, pulled out the specimen during a Zoom class early in the COVID-19 pandemic.

He and the students quickly realized it was not an antlion.

“It didn’t have clubbed antennae like it should,” Skvarla told the Times. “It didn’t have lots of cross-veins in the wing like it should.

“So the immediate question was: What is this thing?”

It marked the first time the insect had been found in Arkansas and the first time it was documented in eastern North America since the 1950s, according to a 2022 study.

Skvarla and co-author J. Ray Fisher “speculated that the insect could have disappeared with growing light pollution, too little fire smoke (which historical records suggest they like) and the introduction of non-native predators to the region,” the Times reported.

Fisher and others, in return trips to the Walmart and a surrounding forest, have not found more giant lacewings, according to the Times.

But the disappearing act is not new. Skvarla said giant lacewings aren’t spotted for years or sometimes decades in their western U.S. habitat. One was identified in Chile in 1924, “65 years after the only other known example of that type was collected,” the Times stated.

It’s a familiar story.

In New Zealand, the takahē was thought to be extinct for 50 years before it was rediscovered in 1948. There are now about 500 of the colorful birds.

Another fantastical creature, Attenborough’s long-beaked echidna, was recently observed for the first time in more than 60 years. The fortuitous sighting of the egg-laying, hedgehog-like mammal with the snout of an anteater happened in Indonesia.

In Australia, there is an effort to find more Victorian grassland earless dragons after the lizard was glimpsed for the first time in more than 50 years.

As for the giant lacewing?

“This discovery suggests there may be relictual populations of this large, charismatic insect yet to be discovered,” Skvarla and Fisher wrote.

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