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FutureStarrGiant Jurassic-Era Insect Revealed Outside Walmart in Arkansas
The Jurassic period occurred 145 million years ago, yet animals and insects from that time can still be observed today.
Giant insects dominated the prehistoric skies, especially when oxygen levels were high. Around 150 million years ago, however, birds took their place and eventually exterminated them altogether.
Scientists still do not understand why the giant lacewing has disappeared from North America. They speculate that it could have been due to increased light pollution, predators or the introduction of non-native species.
Fossils of prehistoric creatures, including giant dragonflies and cockroaches, provide us with the best evidence we have of what ruled the skies during the early Jurassic period (about 145 million years ago). At that time, giant insects with wings as wide as hawk's could fly and mammoth millipedes larger than human legs covered much of Earth's surface.
But when the dinosaurs finally arrived, supersized insect species went missing. That mystery remains unsolved today - theories range from increased light pollution and new predators to Earthworm introductions in the environment.
Scientists have long speculated if an oxygen pulse from prehistoric skies caused these insects to grow so large. This hypothesis, known as the "oxygen pulse hypothesis," suggests that rising oxygen levels caused changes in larger insects' tracheae that enabled them to become so large, according to Harrison.
Though no living giant insects or fossilized tracheae have been discovered, it's likely that similar species did at some point during the Carboniferous period (300 million years ago). Furthermore, since air oxygen content was higher back then, larger-sized creatures didn't need to exert much effort for breathing.
Skvarla discovered an insect outside Walmart in Arkansas: Polystoechotes punctata, or giant lacewing. This species had not been seen in eastern North America for over 50 years.
Researchers believe the giant lacewing was likely the first insect of its kind to live in Arkansas. It lived during the early Jurassic and belonged to Meganeuridae family - which includes some dragonfly-like insects similar to modern dragonflies and damselflies.
Penn State University reports the discovery of the giant lacewing in Arkansas is the first time this species, once widespread across North America, has been seen outside its native range. These butterflies had once been common across all of North America but began becoming scarce by the 1950s.
The lacewing is now housed at Penn State's Frost Entomological Museum, and researchers are still trying to unravel why it disappeared so long ago. They speculate that there may still be remnant populations of this giant insect from prehistory that have yet to be discovered.
When dinosaurs roamed the Earth, many different types of insects lived alongside them. Some feasted off of their meat, others destroyed plants and spread disease, and some scavengers recycled the carcasses of dead dinosaurs for food.
Giant flying insects such as Meganeura monyi species that flew with wings up to 75 cm (23 inches) across during the Permian (299-252 million years ago) and Carboniferous period (359-299 MYA) were common during these periods due to two factors: increased oxygen levels in the atmosphere and lack of birds, which put limits on insect size through predators and competition.
Cockroaches, millipedes and dragonflies were some of the largest insects on Earth during this time. Some could grow up to eight feet long - large enough for an adult man or woman to fit inside!
However, as birds evolved and became able to fly, giant bugs shrunk in size. Prehistoric birds used their wings to beat down any remaining giant insects on earth until eventually sucking them from the sky.
It's difficult to pinpoint precisely when this change took place, but fossil evidence indicates that insect size gradually changed over 20 million years. Unfortunately, the fossil record contains gaps of 20 million years which make it impossible for researchers to pinpoint an exact date.
According to a new study published in Science, dinosaurs may have contributed to the demise of giant insects by eating them or repelling them with their poisonous breath. It remains uncertain how this happened but it's possible that dinosaurs either consumed them or simply left them alone.
Another possible explanation for its disappearance could have been pollution or a lack of predators, or both. The giant lacewing (Polystoechotes punctata), once widespread but mysteriously extinct from eastern North America by the 1950s, may have been one possible explanation.
This discovery could provide scientists with more insight into the early history of insects and how they developed, potentially leading to the identification of extinct populations of these creatures.
Scientists recently stumbled across a giant lacewing outside a Walmart in Arkansas - the first time this species had been identified in the US since 1950s. This discovery suggests there may be remnant populations of these Jurassic-era insects still living in eastern North America.
During the Jurassic Period (230 million years ago), life on land and in the seas flourished. Animals and plants were diverse, while ocean ecosystems supported vibrant reef communities, shallow-water invertebrates, as well as large swimming predators like reptiles or squidlike creatures.
Several major events took place during the Jurassic Period, such as Pangea's breakup and the creation of new continents. These shifts caused significant volcanic activity, mountain-building activities, and island attachments to continents. They also altered continental configuration, oceanographic patterns, and biological systems.
In the 19th and early 20th centuries, insects became some of the largest creatures on Earth. These arthropods, or arthropods as they are commonly known, grew enormous in size due to abundant oxygen in Earth's atmosphere which allowed them to breathe oxygen as they flew and develop larger wings with greater speed.
Researchers have discovered evidence of these insects in the fossil record, though it's difficult to tell when or why they first emerged. Fossilized remains of giant dragonflies have wingspans up to several feet while fossilized insects resembling modern lacewings may have been 10 times bigger than an average flea.
Scientists think pterosaurs, the flying reptiles that evolved during the Triassic about 230 million years ago, may have made insects larger but cannot definitively say for certain. Furthermore, a 20 million year gap in insect fossil records makes it difficult to pinpoint exactly when this change took place.
At around 300 million years ago, Earth's climate began to shift and forests began to disappear. The lower atmospheric oxygen caused an immense decrease in insect populations - it's likely some of these big-winged creatures became extinct as well.
It is likely a result of several factors, including competition from newer insects and disease spread by them. But it could also have been caused by changes in the environment due to meteor impacts or massive lava flows.
Michael Skvarla, director of the Penn State University Insect Identification Lab, happened upon an amazing discovery while wandering through an Arkansas Walmart in 2012. A giant Jurassic-era insect that had disappeared from eastern North America decades earlier. He took it home, forgetting about it for several years until teaching an online class on biodiversity.
As the class began, Skvarla magnified an insect under a microscope. They compared its features to those of other insects and quickly discovered that what Skvarla had labeled as an "antlion" was in reality just a giant lacewing.
This insect, which once flourished during the Jurassic period, has a wingspan of two inches - much larger than today's average insect. It was once common throughout North America but hasn't been seen there since 1950s; scientists don't know why; it could have been due to predators or changes to forest environments where it was found.
Scientists noted the discovery, which could indicate there may be remnant populations of this species still existing. Northwest Arkansas - where Fayetteville is situated - lies within an area of the Ozark Mountains considered a biodiversity hotspot.
Though this finding is remarkable in itself, it also serves to remind us that we should carve out time to do things we enjoy and work towards our life goals. Whether that means working on a new project, developing an additional skill or reaching out to an old friend, we should make sure we're taking time for these activities.
This lesson is equally as relevant for our personal lives. We must dedicate ourselves to hobbies and activities in order to develop as individuals and become successful.
That is why studying nature is so valuable, as we can gain so much insight into our environment and its evolution over time. When we do so, we will have a better grasp on reality and make more informed decisions for our future.