A new species of firefly has been discovered by Joshua Oliva, a 24 year old undergrad student at the University of California, Riverside. The find was made last year on Mother’s Day, while hiking with his mom near Topanga Canyon in Los Angeles.
Although it may take some years to officially name the species, Oliva has unofficially named his first discovery after his mother.
Notwithstanding his graduate degree in history, Oliva had an interest in insects when he was a freshman in college. He was searching for insects for an entomology class project during the hike when he came across the firefly.
To identify the insect, Oliva brought it in to UC Riverside’s Entomology Research Museum, where scientist Doug Yanega told Oliva that this specific firefly species is not in any category. Other experts, from the University of Florida, later confirmed the asessment.
“He wasn’t 100 percent certain it was a firefly, and brought it to me for confirmation,” Yanega said. “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.”
The firefly is half a centimeter long, with a black and orange colored body and a luminescent tail tip.
“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,” Yanega said.
Researchers will now investigate to learn more about the species and eventually, it’ll be formally named. The entire process can take several years.
“The act of formally describing a new species is like gathering evidence for a court case, and might require the examination of specimens from many different collections in order to build a list of all of the features that make this species different from related known species, or even involve DNA sequencing,” Yanega explained. “It’s not unusual for new species’ names to honor the person who first collected them.”
Photo: J. Oliva, UC Riverside.