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UC Riverside Student Finds New Species Of Firefly In California

26 June 2015, 10:09 am EDT By Jill Arce Tech Times
UCR student Joshua Oliva, 24, found a new species of firefly while collecting insects near Topanga, California.  ( Joshua Oliva )

An undergraduate student from the University of California, Riverside (UCR) stumbled upon a new species of firefly while he was looking for insects to complete his collection for the sememster.

The 24-year-old Joshua Oliva found the new firefly species in mid-May near Topanga, California. Even as a little boy, he had always been fascinated by insects. He is originally from Guatemala and moved to the United States when he was nine.

"I don't think I've seen a happier student in my life," said Doug Yanega, senior museum scientist at the Entomology Research Museum at UCR.

According to Yanega, Oliva was not purely certain that the insect he had just collected was a firefly. The moment Oliva brought the insect to Yanega for confirmation, Yanega told the undergraduate he had discovered "something entirely new to science."

Around half a centimeter in length, this new species of firefly that Oliva discovered is black in color. It has an orange pattern that looks like a halo on the shield over its head.

The discovery of new species of insects is not uncommon, unlike what most people might think.

The insect collection at UCR, for example, displays more than 4 million specimens that have been collected over the past 100 years. New species are discovered among them every now and then.

The museum took photos of Oliva's discovery and sent them to Marc Branham and Joe Cicero, experts in fireflies at the University of Florida. Branham and Cicero then confirmed Yanega's conclusions.

Yanega explains that the distribution of this newly found insect may be highly restricted. In the habitat where this occurs, some sort of protection may be required until the researchers can further study and learn more about it. This is one of the reasons why they brought the discovery to the public's attention.

As to the firefly's name, when asked if there was a possibility that the species would be named after Oliva, Yanega says it is common for a new species' name to honor the person who first found them. However, the process of naming a newly found creature, which also includes describing it, may take years.

"The act of formally describing a new species is like gathering evidence for a court case," added Yanega. It could involve the comparison of features with many different species or even DNA sequencing. They cannot really tell how long exactly they have to wait before the species is formally described and given a name.

"My discovery shows me that the field of entomology has a lot of opportunities for hardworking students," said Oliva. He joined UCR in 2009 and graduated earlier this month. He plans to apply to UCR for graduate studies in entomology.

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