Joshua Oliva, a 24 year old undergrad student who studies at the University of California, Riverside, discovered a new species of firefly on Mother’s Day, while hanging out with his beloved mom.
He gave a statement sharing that his mother had been asking him how he’s doing in school, so the young student figured he should take her out with him to offer her a front row view at a project he was working on for the semester – he had to collect some insects for an entomology class.
Fireflies are though to be uncommon in Southern California, so after giving the insect a good look and beginning to believe that he might have found a new species, he took it to his professor, Doug Yanega, a senior scientist with the university’s Entomology Research Museum, for confirmation.
Yanega gave a statement saying that he knows the local fauna really well and was able to inform young Oliva in just a few minutes that he had in fact found a never before seen species of firefly and this made his first contribution to the scientific community. He added that upon hearing the confirmation, the young man was most likely the happiest student he’s ever seen.
Oliva certainly echoed the feeling when he said that “This is one of the best things that has ever happened to me. I felt I finally did something that mattered”. He went on to add that what his discovery convinced him of is that the field of entomology can provide hardworking students like himself with a lot of opportunities.
Although he majored in history at university, Oliva actually has a passion for collecting insects and has been doing so since he was a small kid. He even recalled that he had found another insect species on his driveway, when he was younger and living in New York, and currently has plans to get a master’s degree in entomology after graduating.
The exact area where the youngster found the firefly is the Santa Monica Mountains. What caught his attention was the insect’s halo-like pattern that can be seen on the shield covering the creature’s head, as well as its color – a shade of orange. The rest of the firefly’s body is black, and the animal is about half a centimeter long.
Senior scientists Yanega informs that contrary to popular belief, there are more than 30 species of fireflies that have habitats in Southern California. They generally eat meat (usually off of snails), live in small populations and stay close to springs and seeps.
One potential issue is that they are very localized and very rarely wonder away from the spots with their food source. This leads to one of the main reasons why Oliva and Yanega have announced the discovery of the species before it was even named – they are worried that the firefly’s natural habitat might require a certain degree of protection since the young undergrad was able to find them so effortlessly.
While the World Authorities on Fireflies from the University of Florida have also agreed with Oliva and Yanega the a new species had been discovered, Yanega stresses that naming a new species can take up to several years as it involved collecting DNA and establishing what the particular characteristics of the species are. He compares it to a court case.
But young Oliva already has an answer. If it were up to him, the student would name the firefly species after his mother, who he credits as being of great help to him while he attended his studies.
Image Source: entomologytoday.org