Species thought by scientists to have gone extinct in North America since the 1950s have reappeared on a Walmart storefront in Arkansas, a discovery that has researchers baffled.
Specimen of a species dating from the Jurassic period named polystoechotes pointsor Ithonidae, was first found by Penn State University Insect Identification Laboratory Director Michael Skvarla, who picked it up in 2012 while he was going to buy milk.
“I thought it looked interesting,” he said in a statement from Penn State. I came home, rode it, and forgot about it for a decade.”
He initially thought it was a more common species, the ant lion, but discovered its true identity when he was giving an online class where he talked about insects from his personal collection in 2020.
“We all discovered it wasn’t the exact insect,” says Cody Mathis, an entomology doctoral student. “I remember the feeling we had. It was rewarding and exciting.”
This discovery could lead to a new understanding of how biodiversity adapts in a changing environment.
Skvarla argues that a group of species thought to be extinct on the North American continent may have escaped undetected, where they would be under-searched compared to other areas of similar biodiversity, such as the southern Appalachians.
However, the reason for the dramatic decline in Ithonidae numbers in North America in the 20th century, as well as why one such specimen made its way to a Walmart in Arkansas, remains a mystery.
The massive access to artificial light and the increase in pollution associated with urbanization during these years are hypotheses that the researchers considered.
“A discovery like this shows how even in everyday conditions, there are still many discoveries to be made about insects,” says the director of the Insect Identification Laboratory.