Nearly 13 hectares of land in the Matsu Islands are to be set aside for firefly conservation, becoming the first habitat to be preserved for an island insect species.
The decision comes a decade after two new species of firefly were identified by researchers at the Council of Agriculture’s Endemic Species Research Institute.
Led by institute entomologist Ho Jen-zon (何健鎔), the team spent two years studying the species after local residents noted their distinct behavior.
Photo courtesy of Beigan Township
While male fireflies usually emit light to attract females, in the Matsu species, the flightless females emit a steady light while on the ground to attract flighted males, typically between 7pm and 8pm.
The females also use the light as protection, emitting a blinking pattern while crawling or protecting their eggs as a warning to predators.
The team named the first species Rhagophthalmus beigansis after Beigan (北竿), where it is exclusively found. The second, found in Juguang (莒光), was named Rhagophthalmus giallolateralus.
Ho, who passed away in 2018, published the results of the research in the April 2012 issue of Zootaxa.
Only about 200 of the rare fireflies are left in the wild, prompting a collaboration between the Lienchiang County Government and the Forestry Bureau to set up a conservation area on Beigan, Dongju (東莒) and Xiju (西莒) islets.
All fireflies are affected by human encroachment, light pollution and pesticides, but these species are especially vulnerable as they live on the ground, Forestry Bureau Conservation Division Director Shih Chih-ching (石芝菁) said on Saturday.
The county government is therefore taking the initiative to designate a critical habitat to protect the insects, Shih said.
Residents are to be afforded 60 days notice, after which the county government would implement conservation measures, such as restrictions on land use and light pollution, she said.
Conservation areas have historically been established for the benefit of mammals, with few exceptions for insects, most notably the critical habitat designated in 2000 for the broad-tailed swallowtail butterfly, Shih said.
However, the Matsu firefly habitat would be the first to be established for an island-dwelling insect, she said.
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