RIVERSIDE, Calif., June 26 (UPI) -- On almost any summer night, thousands of kids are catching fireflies. Few, if any, however, are discovering new species.
There are some 2,000 species of fireflies in the world -- a seemingly saturated market. The chances of jarring a new species on a random night of bug collecting in Southern California would appear slim to none.
But that's exactly what happened when University of California, Riverside student Joshua Oliva set out to complete his entomology project.
"He wasn't 100 percent certain it was a firefly, and brought it to me for confirmation," Doug Yanega, senior museum scientist, said in a press release. "I know the local fauna well enough that within minutes I was able to tell him he had found something entirely new to science. I don't think I've seen a happier student in my life."
Yanega said the discovery is unusual for a variety of reasons -- one being that the species was confirmed as being unique so quickly after it was collected.
"It's pretty typical for specimens of new insect species to sit in a collection for a decade or more before an expert comes along who has enough familiarity with that particular type of insect to be able to recognize that it's something new, but I was able to tell this one was interesting right away, and compared it to reference material in our museum," he explained. "This is why it is essential for scientists to collect and keep insect specimens."
What's not unusual, Yanega boasted, is a scientist associated with Riverside discovering a new species.
"Researchers at UC Riverside discover a few dozen new insect species every year, from all around the world, including new local species," he pointed out.
The species measures half a centimeter in length. Its body is mostly black, but its head is guarded by armor marked with an orange halo-like pattern. And like most fireflies, the tip of its tail is marked by a small luminescent organ.
Though Oliva won't get to name the new species -- that honor goes to the scientist who describes the species in the scientific literature -- he is nonetheless excited.
"My discovery shows me that the field of entomology has a lot of opportunities for hardworking students," he said.
Oliva, who has since graduated, is in the process of applying to Riverside's entomology grad program.