Scorpiurus aramoana, a new species of long-legged fly discovered at Aramoana, near Dunedin. Image credit: Steve Kerr
Spending time on the mudflats around Aramoana over the summer led to a unique find for Associate Professor Steve Kerr, a neurotoxicologist at the University of Otago.
Kerr discovered a new species of the long-legged fly, now named Scorpiurus aramoana, and the holotype is now held in the Otago Museum collection. A holotype is the single specimen that acts as the identifier for the entire species.
The discovery is exciting because previously only two species of the fly have been reported as originating from New Zealand. Both these species are found in the North Island and the top of the South Island, with S. aramoana the first to be discovered this far south.
Since the first sightings in December and January, the fly has subsequently been spotted near the Catlins, approximately 134 kilometres south-west of Dunedin. The discovery of S. aramoana has paved the way for further research into the distribution and ecology of this species, as well as the taxonomy of the genus Scorpiurus.
Kerr says, “The flies from the genus Scorpiurus are endemic to New Zealand, found nowhere else in the world, which makes this species unique, and its discovery even more exciting. Given its interesting position in the estuarine ecosystem, it is likely to serve as a good indicator of environmental health.”
Understanding the ecology of flies is important as they are efficient pollinators, while the larva of some flies is an effective cleaner, capable of removing debris from the environment. Often regarded as pests themselves, flies are natural control agents, preying on several pest insects and keeping their populations in check.
Kerr’s work at the University of Otago examines the toxic effects of algal neurotoxin on brain function. In his spare time, he studies Diptera, or true flies, and can often be found in the collection store at the Otago Museum, identifying and cataloguing the Diptera collection.
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