Student discovers new species of firefly

Chuck Bednar for – @BednarChuck

While collecting insects in Los Angeles County as part of an entomology class project, a 24-year-old undergraduate student at the University of California-Riverside discovered a never before seen species of firefly.

Joshua Oliva, a native of Guatemala, found the insect while capturing, mounting and identifying 300 insects as part of the class project, according to The Orange County Register. The firefly was recovered from an area of Topanga Canyon in the Santa Monica Mountains.

The discovery was later confirmed by Doug Yanega, head of the campus entomology museum, and experts from the University of Florida. “I’ve been told by other people a number of times, ‘Hey, you discovered a new species,’” Yanega told the newspaper. “This was the first time I’ve given the news to someone else who’s discovered one. It was very gratifying.”

“He wasn’t 100 percent certain it was a firefly, and brought it to me for confirmation,” the curator added in a statement. “I know the local fauna well enough that within minutes I was able to tell him he had found something entirely new to science. I don’t think I’ve seen a happier student in my life.”

Insects abound

Despite common misconceptions, Yanega explained that there are a handful of different firefly species – or, more correctly, nocturnal beetles that feed on snails – living in southern California. The insects typically can be found in small, localized populations near springs.

“One reason we are bringing this discovery to the public’s attention is that it seems likely that this beetle may be highly restricted in distribution,” he said, “and the habitat where it occurs may require consideration for some level of protection, at least until we can learn more about it.”

He also emphasizes that discovery of new insect species is not as unusual as some might think, and that UC Riverside researchers discover “a few dozen new insect species every year, from all around the world.” In fact, Yanega told the Register that it happens about once per week, adding that just a few weeks ago, he had identified a new beetle from Lytle Creek.

“While it’s unusual for an undergraduate student to find a new species, this has happened before, and shows nicely how a little careful effort can pay off in a big way,” he explained.

As for the new species, the university describes it as being approximately one-half centimeter in length, mostly black in color but with an orange halo on the shield covering its organ, and a small luminescent organ at the tip of the tail. It has not yet been given a name, and the curator warned that the naming process could take several years to complete.


Follow redOrbit on TwitterFacebookGoogle+, Instagram and Pinterest.