Two new species of firefly discovered on Matsu islets

Staff Writer, with CNA

Fri, May 13, 2011 - Page 2

Taiwanese researchers said yesterday they have solved a mystery about fireflies that kept residents of two islets northwest of Taiwan curious for years.

Two types of fireflies discovered in Matsu (馬祖) were new species, entomologist Ho Jen-zon (何健鎔) said.

Locals on the islets of Beigan (北竿) and Juguang (莒光) had tipped off researchers about the many fireflies that light up on the ground at night, but do not fly, the research fellow and chief of the management division at the Taiwan Endemic Species Research Institute said.

Ho and his team investigated this strange behavior and found that the fireflies are actually two new species that belong to the Rhagophthalmidae family. The female bug looks like a worm rather than a winged insect.

The other noticeable distinction of the new species is that usually only the female lights up, whereas for most fireflies, both the male and female emit yellow-green light, Ho said.

The females of these new species glow in two ways. When trying to attract a mate, they lift up their tails and emit a steady light. However, when crawling on the ground, their bodies emit a dotted light pattern as a warning signal to protect themselves, Ho added.

“It looks like a train running slowly in the dark, “ said Yang Ping-shih (楊平世), an -entomology -professor at National Taiwan University.

Ho said the two species were unique and new because neither had been recorded in scientific literature. DNA tests have shown that these are not variations of the same species, but two distinct new species.

“This is a very rare case for fireflies when two Rhagophthalmidae fireflies breed on such small and different islets [less than 10km2 and 3km2],” Ho said.

The discovery was made in a research program commissioned by the county government in 2009. The researchers said they plan to submit their paper to the peer-reviewed journal Zootaxa next month. Doing so will begin the process of confirming their discovery.