Flies meet World: 2012’s new species

I received my end-of-the-year summary for this blog from WordPress last week. Lots of numbers and stats. Yup. I’d be more excited if such things really mattered that much. Instead, let’s talk about some more interesting and relevant numbers from 2012, like new species!

One of the obstacles to using flies as a study group for ecological, evolutionary and conservation research is that a lot of the species are hard to identify, and many of them are undescribed and unnamed species. This means that a lot of knowledge about those species remains inaccessible to the broader scientific community as well as the general public. The need to overcome this so-called “taxonomic impediment” means that taxonomists have, and will continue to have, tons of relevant and important work to do. Among the many ongoing projects in the Lyman Museum, we continue to chip away at little corners of the big taxonomic impediment in the flies.

We described 15 new species in 2012. Their names have been validated according to the International Code of Zoological Nomenclature, published in refereed journals, and type specimens (the actual specimen that is chosen to be the name-bearer for each species name) deposited in recognized institutional collections. What that means, in a nutshell, is that somebody else who wishes to confirm what these species actually “are”, can find and read the original descriptions that outline the traits that distinguish these species from others, and if there is any doubt as to their identity, they can also locate and examine the actual pinned specimens that the names are based on.

We realize, of course, that there may be a slim chance some of you have not yet sat down to read these taxonomic papers (let’s face it, as crucially important as taxonomic revisions are, they’re not exactly The Hobbit or Harry Potter on the readability scale), so here’s a quick roll call of the new species that Lyman folks introduced to the world in 2012.

Three leaf-miner flies

Stéphanie Boucher is one of the world’s few taxonomic specialists on the diverse and ecologically important agromyzid leaf-miner flies. Stéphanie has been working on the taxonomy and diversity of these flies since 2000 and in 2012 she described three new North American species as part of a Festschrift in The Canadian Entomologist commemorating the editors of the monumental Manual of Nearctic Diptera:

Cerodontha (Icteromyza) griffonensis Boucher is so far known only from the Gaspé Peninsula in eastern Quebec (who says you have to go to the tropics to find new species?)

Cerodontha (Icteromyza) vockerothi Boucher. This species, known from eastern Ontario and Virginia (so far) was named in honour of our colleague, and one of the world’s great dipterists, Dick Vockeroth. Dick was a fountain of information to Stéphanie early in her career as a dipterist (Dick Vockeroth passed away late in 2012. Read more of our reminiscences about Dick here).

Cerodontha (Icteromyza) woodi Boucher is named in honour of another great colleague in Diptera, and a great mentor to students of flies, Monty Wood. The holotype specimen of this new leaf-miner was collected in Muir Woods, California, a redwood forest that is one of the most fantastic habitats on the continent. This species is also known from specimens collected elsewhere in California, near Mt Rainier in Washington, and, oddly enough, Michigan.

Two flies for Ottawa guys: C. (I.) vockerothi (L) and C. (I.) woodi (R)

Two flies for Ottawa guys: C. (I.) vockerothi (left) and C. (I.) woodi (right)

In addition to these newly described species, Stéphanie also recorded three previously described species in the genus Amauromyza for the first time from Canada, increasing our own known agromyzid fauna. If we are eventually to understand the insect fauna of Canada we not only have to describe unknown species, we have to carry out inventories in order to discover the species that live here who already have names.

Twelve fungus gnats

Chris Borkent’s Ph.D. thesis included a revision of the mycetophilid genus Leptomorphus, a worldwide group of big, beautiful flies, often with spectacular colour patterns (and with some very cool behavior too). More than 30 species were already known in this genus and Chris described a dozen more in a monograph published in Zootaxa (one of our favorite journals!). Meet the new gnats:

Leptomorphus amorimi Borkent is so far known from two specimens collected in southern Brazil. This species was named for our colleague Dr. Dalton de Souza Amorin, one of the leaders of a fantastic and productive community of Brazilian dipterists.

Leptomorphus amorimi, a very fine fly

Leptomorphus amorimi, a very fine fly

Leptomorphus brandiae Borkent. This wonderful fly (see a photo here) was named by Chris in honour of his even more wonderful wife Brandi. Leptomorphus brandiae lives in Costa Rica.

Leptomorphus crassipilus Borkent lives in Tucuman, northern Argentina.

Leptomorphus eberhardi Borkent, another Costa Rican species, was named in honour of Dr. W. G. Eberhard, who has made some great contributions to our knowledge of the fascinating behavior of Leptomorphus flies (yes, flies have fascinating behavior!)

Leptomorphus furcatus Borkent is a new North American species that lives in New Mexico, Arizona and northern Mexico.

Leptomorphus mandelai Borkent is known from KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa. You can probably guess who this species is named after.

Leptomorphus perplexus Borkent. This species, known only from female specimens collected in California, has a lot of primitive traits that made its placement in Leptomorphus a bit confusing at first, hence the species name. It’s sometimes difficult to place a species of Diptera when you have only females, because the male genitalia usually have the most obvious distinguishing characteristics.

Leptomorphus stigmatus Borkent is another African species, this time from Tanzania. stigmatus means “spots”, and this species has distinctive spots on its thorax.

Leptomorphus tabatius Borkent lives on the Indonesian island of Sulawesi, one of Earth’s biodiversity hotspots. The name tabatius means “fat belly” in Tolaki, the language of the people who inhabit the region where the type specimen was collected.  It’s a fat little fly.

Leptomorphus tagbanua Borkent was collected on Coron Island in the Philippines. It’s named after the Tagbanua people, who have lived on this island, and others in the Philippines, for a very long time.

Leptomorphus titiwangsensis Borkent. Hold your giggles; this fly was named after the Titiwangsa Mountains in Malaysia, where the type specimens were collected.

Leptomorphus waodani Borkent is another South American species, known from Ecuador. The specimen was collected in a rainforest canopy-fogging project carried out on the traditional territories of the Waodani people.

That’s 15 species down, thousands to go. Look for some more new species from Team Lyman in 2013; there are a bunch of new things on the horizon and lots of new species waiting to see the light of day.

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About terry wheeler

professor, museum director, entomologist, ecologist, naturalist
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