UCR undergrad student discovers new firefly species

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Joshua Oliva, University of California, Riverside undergraduate student, has discovered a new firefly species believed to be highly localised in Topanga, California.

Oliva discovered the new firefly species, which is unnamed yet, in mid-May 2015 as part of his semester’s insect collection. Doug Yanega, senior museum scientist, was the first one Oliva approached for confirmation about the firefly. Yanega said that Oliva wasn’t 100 per cent sure that it was a firefly and hence came to him for confirmation.

Yanega added that because he knows the local fauna well enough, he was able to tell Oliva that he had found something entirely new.

“I don’t think I’ve seen a happier student in my life”, he added.

Photos of the new firefly specimen were sent to the University of Florida’s Marc Branham and Joe Cicero, world authorities on fireflies, who confirmed Yanega’s initial conclusion.

“I’ve heard back from the experts in Florida,” Yanega said. “They both saw the photos, and agree this is something new, and they want to describe it. The process may involve describing additional species in the same genus, so they can’t say how long it might be before a name is formally decided upon and published.”

Oliva, 24, who graduated earlier this month, found the new firefly species in mid-May 2015. He has been fascinated by insects since he was a little boy. He grew up in Guatemala and came to the United States when he was 9 years old. He attended high school in Northridge, Calif., and joined UCR in 2009. He now plans to apply to UCR for graduate studies in entomology.

“My discovery shows me that the field of entomology has a lot of opportunities for hardworking students,” he said.

The firefly Oliva found is about half a centimeter long and black in color with an orange halo-like pattern on the shield covering its head (the pronotum), and a small luminescent organ at the tip of the tail.

The new species has not yet been formally named. Yanega pointed out that the naming process could take several years. Asked if the new species might be named after the student who collected it, Yanega said the choice of a name is up to the scientist who writes the description.