The world’s encyclopedia of species has just gotten a tiny bit larger thanks to the discovery of a new firefly species in the swamp forests of Singapore. It’s the first time in more than a century since a new species has been discovered in the area.
The new finding is the result of meticulous analysis conducted by researchers at the National University of Singapore Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum (LKCNHM). The discovery came after the team zeroed in on specimens collected in 2009 during a nationwide survey of fireflies at 14 sites across Singapore which documented 11 firefly species. Among these was an unidentified species named Luciola sp.2, after the firefly genus Luciola.
“We thought the specimens collected in 2009 were the only ones of the unidentified species until I started examining the firefly collection in LKCNHM and found three additional specimens collected 10 years prior. I immediately contacted my colleagues at NParks and we arranged a series of night surveys,” said lead author Wan Faridah Akmal Jusoh.
Ten years after the 2009 survey, the same researchers revisited the firefly habitat located in the Nee Soon Swamp Forest and successfully collected additional specimens of Luciola sp. 2.
Since the genus Luciola contains more than 280 species, most of which cannot be distinguished by the naked eye, the researchers performed intricate dissections to examine internal organs and conducted DNA profiling through a method called “genome skimming.”
After two years of data collection and analysis, the scientists eventually concluded that the 5-millimeter-long Luciola sp. 2 is indeed both genetically and morphologically unique. As a result, they categorized it as a new species and named it Luciola singapura.
“This study underscores the importance and utility of molecular methods that can provide solutions to problems that are otherwise difficult to resolve using traditional approaches,” said LKCNHM museum officer Chan Kin Onn, a coauthor of the study.