Perhaps you want to work on taxonomy. More likely you are undertaking another sort of project where you need to identify specimens that just happen to be fireflies.
1. WHAT ARE FIREFLIES?
They belong to the family Lampyridae in the Order Coleoptera. All stages can produce light but it is the males that produce the most significant and spectacular light patterns especially if they are en masse. It is a mating display, the end point is for the fertilised female to lay eggs and produce the next generation.
The very best book for you to read is the one listed below. While the main focus is on North American species it will answer all the other questions you might have and is a great read too.
Sara Lewis. Silent Sparks. The Wondrous World of Fireflies. Princeton University Press. 2016.
2. HOW ARE ANIMALS (including FIREFLIES) CLASSIFIED?
We will look soon at catalogues that will tell us what species of fireflies might be in your own area, but to understand them we need to take a short diversion as we need to know how fireflies fit into the world of living things.
In order to communicate with each other about the diversity of life biologists found they not only needed to name living organisms but to classify them as well. It is a fundamental activity of the human mind to attempt to put things into some kind of order (language would not have evolved without some sort of classification of things around us). A system of classification is a type of storage and retrieval system, as well as a method of communication.
Linnaeus and the development of classification.
While it was Aristotle who first began to attempt to classify organisms on the basis of structural similarities, the system we use now began with Carl von Linné (Carolus Linnaeus 1707-1778). He was a Swedish botanist who worked out an extensive system of classification for both plants and animals. He emphasised morphological characters (i.e. what they looked like) and developed a hierarchical system of classification (in a hierarchy there is an ascending series of groups of ever increasing inclusiveness).
Linnaeus used categories of
Species grouped into genera
Genera into orders
And orders into classes.
Since his time this hierarchy has been considerably expanded and the major categories (we call them taxa, singular taxon) which we will follow are:
Kingdom or Phylum (phyla) There are at least 33 phyla in the animal kingdom.
Let's look at how the insects and Luciolinae fireflies specifically fit in.
Genus (genera) : A famous genus of flashing fireflies is Pteroptyx
Each taxonomic category is more general (and inclusive) than the one below it. The narrowest category is the species and the broadest the kingdom. The phylum Arthropoda has in excess of 1.2 million described species of which the insects account for 1.1 million (and within that number the most numerous insects are the Coleoptera, the beetles). In contrast the next most numerous phylum is the Mollusca (clams, squids, octopus and snails) with 100,000 described species (the Vertebrata has over 50,000 species).
Classification is the division of objects into “classes’’ – or the orderly arrangement of units. Objects within a “class” may either resemble each other more closely that they do members of other classes, or they may be more closely related to each other than to members of another class, or both. Clearly classification does not have to be restricted to living organisms. Biological classifications address living things and are hierarchical arrangements of groups within groups. All these groups have names and their naming is governed by rules of nomenclature.
Systematics is the scientific study of the diversity of organisms and their relationships, especially their evolutionary history and includes taxonomy (sometimes these terms taxonomy and systematics, are used interchangeably) (Greek systema means a whole made up of several parts).
Taxonomy is the theory and practice of describing, identifying, naming and classifying (Greek taxis = arranged, nomos = law).
Description means to assign features to a specimen so we will know it again. These features will be characters e.g. the colour of the elytra is a character; characters exist in different forms which are character states, the elytron might be black or pale with a dark apex.
Nomenclature is naming (Latin nomen = a name and cadre = to call - by name). It is a system of names, thus providing labels for the different taxonomic categories; with names we can communicate more easily and recognise what we are addressing.
Rules of nomenclature. See below.
Identification in biology is the process of assigning a pre-existing individual or class name to an individual organism. Scientific biological nomenclature is assigning each species a binomen (two names), a generic name and a specific name.
History of classification
• 1700s Linnaeus divided living organisms into two Kingdoms Plants and Animals. He did not include or consider any single celled organisms (why not?)
• 1866 Haeckel proposed three kingdoms Plants Animals and Protista (for single celled organisms)
• 1966 Whittaker proposed five kingdoms Plants Animals Protista Fungi and Monera
Kingdom Monera Prokaryotic organisms – bacteria
Kingdom Protista Eucaryotic organisms – protozoans, various algae
Kingdom Fungi Eucaryotic organisms, carry out extra cellular digestion; fungi
Kingdom Plantae Eukaryotic organisms with cell wall; manufacture their own high energy compounds using radiant energy; plants
Kingdom Animals Eucaryotic organisms; ingest food through a mouth; sponges, worms, insects, fish, frogs, reptiles, birds, mammals
Taxonomic categories. The level of a taxonomic category can usually be determined by the end of the word (the suffix)
Order usually ends in -ptera (often)
e.g. family Lampyridae, subfamily Luciolinae, Tribe Luciolini
3. HOW DO WE FIND OUT WHAT FIREFLIES OCCUR IN YOUR AREA? There are catalogues of fireflies. You should refer to McDermott, F.A. (1966) Lampyridae. In: Steel, W.O. (Ed.), Coleopterorum Catalogus Supplementa. Pars 9. Editio Secunda. W. Junk, S'Gravengage, pp. 1-149. This is a catalogue of fireflies of the world. It is always your starting point in work on fireflies. The most recent publication addressing the Luciolinae is Ballantyne et al. 2019 which you can access in the Publications section.
4. HOW DO WE NAME THINGS? BINOMIAL NOMENCLATURE
The system developed by Linnaeus for naming species is the binomial system (literally 2 names). e.g. Pteroptyx malaccae is the name of a well known firefly in Malaysia and Thailand. The first word is the name of the genus - Pteroptyx is the genus into which this species has been placed, and it is also the generic name. Within this genus there are many species of which malaccae is just one; the second word is the species identifier, malaccae is the species and the specific name or epithet, often describing something distinctive about this particular species (this one came from Malacca). The scientific name of this species is Pteroptyx malaccae i.e. we use both the generic and specific names as the actual species name, not just malaccae. The species name provides a label that we then use to discover all the biological and taxonomic knowledge relating to that animal, even without looking at a species description. Look what we can say about this just by using its name: • Pteroptyx malaccae belongs in the subfamily Luciolinae • Luciolinae are distinguished by having only 6 visible ventrites (ventral segments) in the abdomen. • The Luciolinae are a subfamily within the Lampyridae the fireflies. • Fireflies produce light from segments at the end of the abdomen. • The Lampyridae are a family within the Order Coleoptera which have mandibulate mouthparts, the fore wings are elytra, a holometabolous life cycle and so on. And all this just from a name! Details of just what Pteroptyx malaccae looks like comes from an examination of the literature (all the printed material we can find that has been written about this species).
Originally names were based on Latin or ancient Greek as these languages would not change, and scientists often had a grounding in one or the other. When written the scientific name should always have the generic name headed with a capital letter, and be italicised or underlined. We will look at examples of literature and what it tells us soon.
Why not just use a local name or a common name?
Calling a firefly by its local name may be quite acceptable if all you are trying to do is to communicate with the locals who already know that name. It may mean nothing to someone from another country and thus you lose your capacity to communicate properly and scientifically. In Australia there is a weed with a purple flower, which the locals call Paterson’s curse – it grows better than the pasture grasses, is regarded as a serious pest, and cattle will rarely eat it. In Sydney it is sold as a cut flower and called Riverina bluebell! And in South Australia it is known as Salvation Jane and in extreme drought the cattle may eat it as a last resort. But to scientists it is Echium plantagineum L. and this name does not change in different areas of Australia!
Rules for binomial nomenclature
Communication between biologists must be unambiguous – we have to be sure we are all talking about the same thing. This requires a consistent system of naming for species and their higher groupings. Taxonomy is international and the naming system thus has to be universal and names must be cited in an internationally acceptable language. There should be rules to govern how names are applied and to cope with situations where the limits rank and status of particular taxa might be changed. Linnaeus’ system and thus zoological nomenclature, dates from 1 January 1758 when the 10th edition of Systema Naturae was published. Any names published before that time are disregarded.
The International Commission on Zoological Nomenclature (ICZN) is a body that makes the rules which we must follow; these are set out in the Code of Zoological Nomenclature a published document which you should have access to if you want to do any taxonomy. It works only because most zoologists are willing to accept its authority. It is constantly updated amended and improved.
How are scientific names formed?
1. They must be in Latin or latinised, or treated as if Latin. This requirement is becoming harder to adhere to as so few taxonomists now have a Latin background.
2. The name of the genus and species should be printed in a distinctive type, usually italics or at least underlined. e.g. Pteroptyx malaccae or Pteroptyx malaccae. For convenience once we have clearly stated the scientific name in full we can abbreviate the generic name as long as there is no possibility of confusion e.g. P. malaccae. Sometimes where generic names start with the same letter and there might be a problem in working out which genus is being referred to it might be necessary to give a fuller abbreviation e.g. Ballantyne and Lambkin (2009) had to use these abbreviations: Pygat. eliptaminensis (for Pygatyphella eliptaminensis), Pygo. hamulata (for Pygoluciola hamulata), Pyro. appendiculata (for Pyrophanes appendiculata). In each of these cases abbreviating the generic name to just P. would have caused considerable confusion.
3. The name/s of the original author/s and the original publication date may be cited but are not part of the scientific name. They do however provide us with considerable information e.g. writing a name of a firefly like this: Pteroptyx tener Olivier, 1907 tells us that it was described by Olivier in a publication dated 1907. Consider Pteroptyx malaccae (Gorham, 1880). In this case where brackets surround the author’s name there has been a change since this species was originally described; it was not included in the genus Pteroptyx when it was first described. Gorham described Luciola malaccae in 1880. We would write it Luciola malaccae Gorham 1880. However the name has changed as Olivier transferred this species to another genus, Pteroptyx. The species (malaccae) was first described by Gorham and he remains the author even when someone else transfers this species to another genus – that is what the brackets are telling us. Nothing about the name tells us who made the changes, for that we have to do further searches through the literature and firefly catalogues.
Consider this name: Pteroptyx tener Olivier, 1907 The species tener was described originally by Olivier in a publication dated 1907, and he placed it into the genus Pteroptyx. Think about this name: Pteroptyx testacea (Motschulsky). The species was described by Motschulsky but he did not place it into the genus Pteroptyx. Note that there is no information about what the original genus was, nor who actually transferred it to this new genus (that will be the subject of a table of synonymy which we will address later). All we know from this name is that Motschulsky described a species called testacea which was not in the genus Pteroptyx when he described it, and that someone later moved testacea to the genus Pteroptyx.
4. Newly proposed names must be available i.e. correctly formed, published in accordance with a detailed definition of just what publication means, and accompanied by a definitive description (in the case of fireflies this may mean diagrams and photos as well). It must not have been used before (You can check if a name has already been used in Neave, Nomenclator Zoologicus). In the past this description has been a hard copy description published in appropriate and accessible journals. Appropriate journals always involve the submission being reviewed by more than one referee. On line publication as an appropriate outlet is now allowed (presently online publication of a taxonomic paper is accompanied by the simultaneous production of a printed journal).
5. The principle of priority. Each taxon governed by the code can have only one scientifically correct (=valid) name. Additional names often come to be applied to the same taxon – these are synonyms (the taxon or organism being named is the same but the names are different). An already described taxon may be inadvertently renamed or two separate taxa may be shown to be identical. The valid name is then the one with the earliest date of publication – it is known as the senior synonym. Any other names are junior synonyms. The International Code of Zoological Nomenclature governs the rules that apply to zoological nomenclature. If you are pursuing taxonomy then you should have access to a copy.
Exercise on nomenclature
1. Which of these is not a scientific name?
a. Pteroptyx valida b. Pterptyx valida c. Pteroptyx valida d. Pteroptyx valida
2. Which of these is not a scientific name? a. Pteroptyx malaccae (Gorham) b. Pteroptyx malaccae (Gorham) c. Pteroptyx malaccae (Gorham, 1880) d. Luciola malaccae.
3. Consider the following name of a species of firefly occurring in New Guinea Pteroptyx microthorax (Olivier, 1885) What do the brackets mean around the name Olivier? Who described the species originally and when?
In what genus did he place this species? Think carefully and answer only from the name itself. Who placed this species in the genus Pteroptyx? Who is the author of the genus Pteroptyx? If you cannot answer some of these questions then where might we have to look next to get our answers?
Answers to questions 1. b is misspelled and d should be underlined or in italics. 2. a not written in italics. Strictly speaking the scientific name does not have to have the author’s name attached. 3. Olivier did not place microthorax in Pteroptyx when he first described it. He described microthorax in 1885 (he placed it in the genus Luciola) but you cannot tell from the name what genus it was placed in first. Neither can you tell from the name who placed it in Pteroptyx. The author of Pteroptyx, the person who first described this genus is actually Olivier, but you cannot tell that from this name. Where to look for more information? Try McDermott’s 1966 catalogue as your starting point.
5. HOW ARE WE GOING TO NAME AND IDENTIFY OUR FIREFLY?
CONSTRUCTION AND USE OF DICHOTOMOUS KEYS
I am making an assumption here, that the firefly you have belongs to the subfamily Luciolinae (this subfamily has light organs in ventrites 6 and 7 and only 7 abdominal segments). Here we have to make a short diversion, as you will need to know how to use a dichotomous key to identify your firefly, as well as how to write one.
Dichotomous keys are a useful way to identify organisms and they are constructed to make this process as simple as possible. A dichotomous key (= two parts) forms a series of numbered questions arranged in couplets (= a pair of questions). At each step in the key the user is presented with a choice which is only between two different situations (this is why they are dichotomous and each step in the key is called a couplet for the same reason). Depending on your choice you will be directed to another couplet and more choice, or the name of a taxon and your exercise is complete.
Structure of dichotomous keys
Each couplet is numbered, beginning with 1, and in this example below each lead in the couplet is distinguished by the letters a or b. In very long keys it is sometimes an advantage to be able to work backwards if you think you have made a mistake, and here the preceding lead is indicated in parentheses following the first lead of the couplet (for example here couplet 3 has come from lead 1b). The actual structure of dichotomous keys will vary depending on the requirements of the journal that is publishing them and the keys may not be as complete as this one.
Here is a simple dichotomous key:
1a Descriptive characters ........... 2
1b) Descriptive characters ........... 3
2a(1a) Descriptive characters ...Taxon A
2b Descriptive characters ...........Taxon B
3a(1b) Descriptive characters ... 4
3b Descriptive characters ...........Taxon C
4a(3a) Descriptive characters ...Taxon D
4b Descriptive characters .......... Taxon E
How to use the key. With the key above you would begin at couplet 1 and look at the alternative statements given there i.e. 1a or 1b. Once you have made your choice look to the right and the numbers there tell you where to go next. If you chose item 1b as the correct one of the two choices, then you will need to go now to couplet 3 (NOT 2). This key is constructed to make it easier for you to go back if you think you might have made a mistake. Couplet 2a has 1a in brackets after it – saying this is how I got here, I chose 1a and it told me to move on to couplet 2. Always read carefully what it is a key for. You would not for example use a key for Australian fireflies to key out a specimen from China.
Rules for constructing dichotomous keys. Or help for you if you have to construct your own.
1. All parts of the key must be dichotomous.
2. Generalised statements are not much use e.g. big or small. You have to define your terms so such statements would be accompanied by an actual range of measurements. While we will make much use of colour as a taxonomic aid here colour itself is very variable and often depends on the age of the specimen and how it has been preserved.
3. Always give clear cut contrasting statements in each half of the couplet. If you begin with a statement on the shape of the pronotum in the first half then you must give a corresponding statement in the second half.
4. Try to use more than two characters in each lead (beginning) of each half and order them according to their diagnostic value – (i.e. put the more important characters first – you may not have to go past these at all).
5. Taxonomic names are not key characters.
6. Try to use characters that are obvious and convenient – but remember with certain groups this will not always be possible.
7. If we know both sexes and also the nature of the larvae then it is best to present different keys for males, females and larvae. A key can give you much information about your specimens in addition to telling you a name for it. The key if properly written will allow you to do this and it becomes important later on when you might be trying to write diagnostic features i.e. how two species might differ from each other.
KEYS ARE VERY IMPORTANT AND CAN PROVIDE YOU WITH LOTS OF USEFUL INFORMATION. See below where we indicate how a diagnosis for a genus or a species is mainly constructed from the features you already identified when you used the key to genera or species.
6. WHERE DO I FIND A KEY TO GENERA?
We will use this reference as it has the most recent key to genera for the Luciolinae. Only use this key if your specimens belong to the Luciolinae and if they are males. Can you understand why I said this?
Ballantyne, L., Lambkin, C. L., Ho, J-Z., Jusoh, WFA., Nada, B., Nak-eiam, S., Thancharoen, A., Wattanachaiyingcharoen, W. & Yiu, V. 2019. The Luciolinae of S. E. Asia and the Australopacific region: a checklist (Coleoptera: Lampyridae) with description of three new genera and 13 new species .Zootaxa 4687: 001-174. https://doi.org/10.11646/zootaxa.4687.1.1
This is a complicated key. It assumes that you either know features of firefly morphology, or that you can determine them for yourself. So what do you do now? Other publications outline in detail, usually with references to figures of features, the characters used in this key.
Character description. The following references all contain an extensive list of characters with references to illustrations, most of which are often in the same publication. Note that as the Luciolinae taxonomy developed, the list of characters, and the number of taxa addressed, increased. This is why the most recent publication should be your first reference.
Ballantyne, L. A. & Lambkin, C., 2009. Systematics of Indo-Pacific Fireflies with a redefinition of Australasian Atyphella Olliff, Madagascan Photuroluciola Pic, and description of seven new genera from the Luciolinae (Coleoptera: Lampyridae). Zootaxa 1997: 1-188. https://doi.org/10.11646/zootaxa.1997.1.1
Fu, X.H., Ballantyne, Lesley & Lambkin, Christine 2012a. Emeia gen. nov., a new genus of Luciolinae fireflies from China (Coleoptera: Lampyridae) with an unusual trilobite-like larva, and a redescription of the genus Curtos Motschulsky. Zootaxa 3403, 1–53. https://doi.org/10.11646/zootaxa.3403.1.1
Ballantyne, L. A. & C. Lambkin, 2013. Systematics and Phylogenetics of Indo-Pacific Luciolinae Fireflies (Coleoptera: Lampyridae) and the Description of new Genera. Zootaxa 3653, 1-162. https://doi.org/10.11646/zootaxa.3653.1.1
Ballantyne, L. A., Lambkin, C., Boontop, Y. & Jusoh, W.F.A. 2015. Revisional studies on the Luciolinae fireflies of Asia (Coleoptera: Lampyridae): 1. The genus Pyrophanes Olivier with two new species. 2. Four new species of Pteroptyx Olivier and 3. A new genus Inflata Boontop, with redescription of Luciola indica (Motsch.) as Inflata indica comb. nov. Zootaxa 3959, 1-84. https://doi.org/10.11646/zootaxa.3959.1.1
It's really important that you understand how important keys to both genera and species can be.
So to make this clearer let's have a look at the key to genera in the 2019 paper, and we will assume you have a specimen of the genus Abscondita. Couplet 1 immediately divides all the genera into two groups, those with the lateral lobes visible at the sides of the median lobe of the aedeagus, and those that aren't. If we continue through this key with your specimen then it is possible to write a list of features it has based on how you answered the questions. You will arrive a couplet 11 so let's list those features.
We can say that Abscondita has aedeagus with lateral lobes widely visible at the sides of the median lobe, couplet 2 that it has clypeolabral suture present, labrum not well sclerotised etc. Couplet 3 tells us it does not have sclerites surrounding the aedeagal sheath nor parallel sided punctation on the elytra; couplet 4 that tergite 8 is symmetrical; couplet 6 that it doesn't have a well defined humeral carina etc and that the lateral lobes of the aedeagus are usually the same length; couplet 7 the light organ in ventrite 7 is not triangular in outline; couplet 8 described the outline of the light organs, and that the area of ventrite 7 behind the light organ is not swollen or arched etc; couplet 10 now describes aedeagal sheath symmetrical , it gives you a choice of two different forms of the sheath sternite, (that's because we are also keying out here the genus Pygoluciola and it and Abscondita are quite similar), the sheath sternite is often terminated by lobes , and we arrive at couplet 11 which now adds some more features of the aedeagus - base of the lateral lobes fused along their length which you can confirm from the picture reference here.
Now I have a genus, what happens next? The most important part of arriving at a result in using a taxonomic key is what step you take next.
For convenience we assumed you keyed your specimen out to the genus Abscondita. Your next step is to find a publication, if there is one, that addresses species in this genus. Ballantyne, Lesley, Fu, Xin Hua, Lambkin, Christine, Jeng, Ming-Luen, Faust, Lynn, Wijekoon, W. M. C. D., Li, Daiqin & Zhu,, Tengfui 2013. Studies on South-east Asian fireflies: Abscondita, a new genus with details of life history, flashing patterns and behaviour of Abs. chinensis (L.) and Abs. terminalis (Olivier) (Coleoptera: Lampyridae: Luciolinae). Zootaxa 3721, 1–48. https://doi.org/10.11646/zootaxa.3721.1.1
Confirm the genus. You should now look at the extensive description of the genus on pages 6-9, and try to confirm that the specimen you keyed does belong to this genus. Remember to use those features you wrote down from going through the key to genera. Try to match features of your specimen with the features outlined on those pages. This is an important step. You may have erred in your interpretation of the key to genera.
Key to species. Now we are ready for another key, this time to species within the genus. Page 9 lists the 6 species, and below that a key to species uses mainly colour patterns and length. All the species in this genus are now addressed individually beginning at page 9. Look at page 12 and the heading Diagnosis. Can you see now how important the keys have been? This diagnosis is using, mainly, features you would have used in the key to species, like dorsal colour, and colour of the abdominal tergites. It is the features in the key that aided these authors (one of which was me) in constructing a diagnosis.
7. HOW DO I INTERPRET THE LITERATURE? TABLES OF SYNONYMY
Now we will need to look at how we might interpret the information that is given at the foot of page 9 in the paper on Abscondita. The format the authors of this paper follow is usually one that is dictated by the journal itself. So let’s take a closer look first at the heading Abscondita anceyi (Olivier) comb. nov. It tells us that while Olivier might have first described the species he did not put it into this genus. The comb. nov. is a new abbreviation but it is saying the same thing, that this is a new combination (combination nova) for the name of this species (the species name is now sitting alongside a different generic name). Now we can find out much more information, especially about just when did Olivier describe the species, and what genus did he put it into?
We are now going to look at the two lines that appear below the heading.
Luciola anceyi Olivier, 1883:330. Bourgeois, 1890:185. McDermott, 1966:99. Chen, 1999:31; 2003
Luciola Anceyi Olivier. Olivier, 1888:430; 1902:74; 1913:271. Synonymy.
This is a table of synonymy, and it lists all the references in the literature to the species in question plus all the various names by which this species may have been called. And this is done in strict chronological order. (Synonyms are words, or in this case names of species, which all mean the same). Let’s address some questions that this table can answer: 1. What genus did Olivier put anceyi in when he first described it? Luciola. 2. Did other people also call it Luciola anceyi? Yes, Bourgeois, McDermott and Chen. 3. Why is it also listed as Luciola Anceyi? Because he misspelled it! The specific name should have a lower case first letter. All references to where he or anyone else might have misspelled it are listed. Placing the word synonymy now after this list means that we know that these authors thought that Luciola Anceyi and Luciola anceyi both referred to the same species.
We will examine one more table of synonymy on page 15 of this same paper for Abscondita chinensis. This one is much more complicated but it can be followed through chronologically.
This species Abscondita chinensis was first described by Linnaeus in 1767 as Lampyris chinensis (Linnaeus is so well known that his name can be safely abbreviated to L.), and the heading tells us that the species was first described in another genus, partly because of the brackets around the L., and also because of the comb. nov. (= new combination). The table of synonymy says that only Linnaeus published the name Lampyris chinensis, he was the only one to call it by that name. The different generic (as Luciola) and specific names (as vespertina, praeusta, affinis, and gorhami) tell us that there have been lots of other names given. Meaning that the other authors may not have realised that what they were dealing with had already been described and had an official name. On the last line of the table, on page 16 another identification appears. The Nec means that the authors of this paper do not agree with this identification and think that the species Barua et al. described was actually Abscondita chinensis.
8. THE CONCEPT OF TYPES
Look again at Ballantyne, Lesley, Fu, Xin Hua, Lambkin, Christine, Jeng, Ming-Luen, Faust, Lynn, Wijekoon, W. M. C. D., Li, Daiqin & Zhu,, Tengfui 2013. Studies on South-east Asian fireflies: Abscondita, a new genus with details of life history, flashing patterns and behaviour of Abs. chinensis (L.) and Abs. terminalis (Olivier) (Coleoptera: Lampyridae: Luciolinae). Zootaxa 3721, 1–48. https://doi.org/10.11646/zootaxa.3721.1.1 and page 16 where the headings Types and Neotype appear. When a species is described as new to science it will always be based on at least one or more specimens which comprise its type series; these will be the specimens the original author had in front of him when he described it. One should be designated by the author as the holotype, and the remainder become paratypes. Frequently, and particularly with species from our geographic area described over 100 years ago, there may be no identifiable type. In this case if a type series can actually be recognised its members are all syntypes. The collection of Ernest Olivier who described so many of our fireflies, is meticulously organised and it is possible to recognise types (at times) but also to know often when you are dealing with a syntype series. Often the literature will enable you to determine this. Then a Lectotype can be designated from this syntype series – the Lectotype effectively becomes the equivalent of a holotype and the remainder then become paralectotypes. This Lectotype designation must be published. If there is no original material (there is now no material of Luciola chinensis in the Linnaean collection in London) then the taxonomist can designate a neotype (new type). Neotypes, lectotypes and holotypes are equivalent and all these designations must be published. That is why a neotype was designated for Lampyris chinensis. Name bearing types must now be labelled unmistakably and lodged in an established museum or public institution. Unfortunately for SE Asian taxonomy most of the work was done by the French and thus most of their collections and hence types are lodged in European museums especially Paris. The Linnaeus collection is in London and was carefully examined by one of the authors of this paper before making a decision to erect a neotype. Later we will discuss how you can find out where some of these old collections are and how you might go about recognising just who wrote the labels on the specimens.
Terminology for types
Types in a species group
Holotype – single specimen on which a new species group taxon is based, should be listed in the original description. Allotype – sometimes used to indicate a specimen of the opposite sex to the holotype. Type series – all the material included by the original author in that taxon. Paratype – once a holotype has been selected all the material remaining are paratypes (literally standing to the side of). Syntypes – if no holotype was designated originally all the specimens the author included are syntypes. Lectotype – designation by a subsequent author of one specimen from a syntype series; remainder now become paralectotypes. Homonyms – same name; Two or more taxa distinguished from each other must not bear the same name (See Neave Nomenclator Zoologicus) Synonyms = same species
Type fixation for genera – the type of a genus is a species – the type species; these are usually designated in the original (modern) description. If not clearly designated originally then the first author to designate one of the originally included species is followed.
Now go to the following section "On being a taxonomist".
On July 21 1964 Dr EN (Pat) Marks gave a talk to members of the Department of Entomology at the University of Queensland in St Lucia entitled “On being a taxonomist”. Her principles and advice resonate still, and much of this talk has been incorporated into the advice below.
1. How does one become a taxonomist? It may be by deliberate choice, but most often it is by chance. You have started out to study some aspect of a group of animals, often its biology, and you discover that the very first thing you need to discover are names for your specimens.
2. Choice of group. We will confine our discussion here to the fireflies.
3. Make contact with other workers. Find out just who else works on this group and make contact. In Marks’ own words “respect for other workers in one’s field is a fundamental principle … no one has exclusive rights to the taxonomic study of a particular group” but being aware of what others are doing helps avoid duplication of effort when there is so much taxonomy to be done. You can make contact with many who will be of help to you as you pursue your study. Always answer correspondence from colleagues in a timely fashion (with email there is really no excuse for tardiness). Be truthful in your interactions – say if you do not have time, or you don’t know the answer. Often you can indicate that you will try to give an answer at a later date. You will hopefully develop a network of associates all of whom can help you in different ways.
4. List those species and genera from your area. Determine which species occur in your area (try to cover a wide geographic area if it seems there might be no natural geographic barriers to distribution). For this you need a catalogue. McDermott 1966 is a catalogue to the Lampyridae of the world, but will be a bit out of date. Ballantyne et al. 2019 lists the Luciolinae from a wide area extending from India through SE Asia to the Australopacific area.
5. Geographic scope – even if you are just working on the fauna of a restricted area you still should be aware of the wider distribution of the group.
6. Assemble the literature that your catalogue has listed for the relevant species.
You need to know what literature is available in your chosen group. Both McDermott and Ballantyne et al. list many references to descriptions of species. You may need to access these originals.
Descriptions may be scattered across time ( there are now over 2 centuries of zoological literature), across languages (while the language of the description used to be Latin now English is the preferred language, and older descriptions say by Olivier or Pic may also have additional information in French), and in space (there will be the need for extensive library access (much of this literature is very old, often hard to obtain, and scattered in libraries around the world). A good taxonomist will be aware of all the relevant literature that relates to the species under investigation, and
assembling it (and often translating it) is one of the major obstacles to work in this family. You may be lucky enough to have recent descriptions in English to consult. Taxonomists often use language that is pertinent either to the order or the family on which they are working and this terminology may be hard to understand. See Ballantyne et al. (2015) for descriptions and explanations of characters used in Luciolinae taxonomy.
Translate if necessary. Where are the types? Try to establish where the types are. The major work on SE Asian firefly taxonomy was done originally by Ernest Olivier and Maurice Pic. Although the major part of the Olivier and Pic collections is housed at the Paris Natural History Museum, there are types scattered through many European museums. Many museums consider they have the holotypes when they are actually part of a syntype series.
7. Terminology. Within the Luciolinae there are several publications that give descriptions of the extensive range of characters used to identify the Luciolinae to genus and species (see Ballantyne et al 2015 Zootaxa 3959; for the most recent taxonomic categories see Ballantyne et al. 2019. Both are available to download in the Literature section). You may have discovered new characters, or need to expand or modify existing ones.
8. Identify your specimens. If the literature is quite clear and you are confident you can identify your specimen from the descriptions then you are very lucky. At the very least you will have a general idea of what various species look like (usually their colour) and should be able to do some sorting of your own. At this point you should be looking at any museum collections that might have identified specimens. However be very cautious with these identifications which are more than likely incorrect. Reliable identifications should have the authority for the identification (i.e. whoever was looking at them and who came up with this identification). This link will give you information about many entomologists and the final disposition of their collections http://www.zalf.de/home_zalf/institute/dei/php_e/biograph/index.htm. The literature especially if it is old will refer to various countries by their former names and this can cause confusion – do you know where Tonkin is now? What was once IndoChine? Siam?
9. Examine the types????? If you find yourself in the position of having to make a choice from several to many species that all seem to be alike (usually in colour) and nothing about the literature can help you then you may have to examine the types!
Examination of the types is absolutely the best way to be sure of what you have…BUT - this method is not always practicable nor sometimes even reliable. Most types of SE Asian (and many from the Australopacific) fireflies are in European museums, and cost of travel and accommodation, plus unfamiliarity with the language, might be major deterrents. All taxonomists at some stage should be making every effort to access at least some of the types relevant to their group.
Types themselves are often very old (if you can actually find them in the museum collection – Pic’s material is notoriously hard to work through. Often but not always the museum curator might be able to help. Older types are not labelled as we might label them nowadays, and it is sometimes difficult to determine whether you are seeing a series of syntypes or a unique holotype. Museums may indicate that they hold a holotype specimen when there are actually other specimens (syntypes) in other institutions. You may be able to work through this by studying the literature. Types also especially the very old ones are usually in poor condition and their colour may be quite unlike that of freshly caught specimens. Fireflies are soft bodied and may even fall off the pin and are lost. The major problem will arise when a type itself can only be reliably identified by dissection – it may be too fragile to permit dissection or the institution may not permit it.
Remember too that museums are now facing financial crises of their own with fewer and fewer staff and it may be physically impossible for anyone at the museum to attempt identifications for you or to compare your specimens with the types. You may not even get a reply!
10. How to cope with this situation? Be Honest. Tell your reader (if you are writing a scientific paper) just what collections you examined and what steps you took to identify your specimens.
11. This from FA Perkins, my first and much loved head of the Department of Entomology, and Pat Marks herself THINK ON PAPER (the best piece of advice ever given to LB when she started in taxonomy – preferably keep a notebook so you know just where you are and what has to be done) or use your computer. Try to record any bright ideas you had, and especially were you are up to on a particular project (it is helpful to know what great thoughts you were thinking).
12. Collecting and preserving. You should be taking every opportunity to collect your group in the field; remember to keep ample notes on where and when you collect. You will be studying distribution of your species, but remember that what is listed in a publication is a distribution of the collectors not the species itself. It will be up to you to expand that knowledge. When I began work on fireflies we advertised my interest via the local newspaper, so now you can use the various Facebook pages like Friends of Fireflyers International.
a. Examine existing collections. You may start with existing collections in museums or universities to get an idea of what is available and where.
b. Make your own collection. You will need to expand your activities and undertake collections of your own as they will tell you much more about the behaviour and ecology of your target group.
c. Local regulations. You should be aware of all the local regulations that govern any area in which you might collect and be aware of the need for conservation.
d. Appropriate labelling. Even in the field you need to develop a scheme for an appropriate method of labelling your catch and recording all the necessary information about it.
e. Preservation. Preservation techniques may well be short and long term – short term till you get back to your lab, and long term when you can properly preserve set and label your specimens. Appropriate long term storage of your insects is paramount whether they be pinned or preserved in alcohol.
13. The collection.
a. Where will you put your collection? Ultimately your collection should be deposited in an accessible and preferably a museum collection so they are available to the wider scientific community.
b. All your specimens should be clearly labelled with place and date of collection and name of collector. You may need to access collections to determine what species you have and to determine its range. Treat all the specimens with respect and if you borrow material try to return it in a timely fashion.
ACCOUNTABILITY IS EVERYTHING IN TAXONOMY.
1. Try to be selective in how you approach your work; break up your work into manageable sections, don’t do too much at once or you might find you never get finished. While it is good practice to put a completed paper aside for a while and come back for a fresh look, it is not good practice to leave your work only half done, thinking you will comeback to it later. You will find you will probably have to go back to the beginning again.
2. Select a journal to submit your paper to, and download the journal’s instructions to authors. Look carefully at the format required and try to follow it.
3. How do you handle your specimens?
a. If you are describing a new species then you will need to select a holotype and also paratypes from all the material in front of you. The holotype should be an adult, and since Luciolinae taxonomy is still male based, it should be a male. Try to select the most perfect specimen that shows all the features you desire, but do not be afraid of dissecting it if genitalic features are also important. If your species as quite variable then try to select a holotype from about the mid point of this variation, and preferably, if it is widely distributed, from the centre of this distribution.
b. You will also be designating some paratypes. Since these were in front of you when you described the species, and you compared them with the holotype and indicated you thought they are the same species, then this is what increases the value and usefulness of paratypes. It is certainly useful if there is considerable variation to described the holotype first and then indicate how the paratypes differ from it.
c. Where do you deposit your types? Usually in your own country if this is your own fauna. If your material was borrowed then it has to be returned to the original museum.
d. Try to have as many paratypes as you can and distribute them to various museums of your choice.
e. What if you only have one specimen? You can describe a new species from a single specimen but consider the following: is it in good condition and showing all the features you want? Is the collection data reliable? Could more collection in that area reveal more? Might it be better to wait to see if further collection reveals more specimens? Remember our object is to advance knowledge of our own fauna.
4. In describing your new species you have already established that there is no published record like it, but have you looked at other holotypes of other species in this genus? Depending on where these types are this may be almost impracticable, but if you know where they are then at least contact the museum so see if someone could compare your specimen with certain types. Some museums now have pictures of specimens including types available on line.
5. You will have constructed a key to species. Check the requirements for dichotomous keys in a previous section, but also try to have someone else work through your key to make sure it works. The format will be that of the journal you selected.
6. You can’t check your work too many times! And if you can have someone else check it for you, use all the facilities for spell check that your computer offers you.
7. Your work will ultimately be sent out to reviewers who are usually experts in your field or an allied one. Usually your very first review is a shock to the system! Don’t be discouraged, and look on it all as helpful advice. You may not agree with it all and you do have a right of reply, you can challenge what is said in the review, politely of course.
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