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New Species of Fly Found Breeding on Central Park Duck Droppings

The creatures are likely drawn to the area by the high concentrations of duck poop

Themira lohmanus (Zoo Keys)
smithsonian.com

Thousands of new species are discovered each year—many of which hide within the wilds of the tropics. But a new study shows that new species can be found anywhere, including Central Park in New York City, reports Amanda Kooser at CNET.

“A very particular fly, Themira lohmanus has been found hiding under the noses of New Yorkers all this while,” Yuchen Ang, lead author of the study published in the journal ZooKeyssays in a press release. “First found off Harlem Meer in Central Park, [it] can only breed on duck dung.”

The species was actually discovered in 2007 in New York City, but it was mistaken for a different (already known) species. A recent genetic analysis, however, suggests the fly is actually an unknown member of the Themira genus. Researchers dubbed it Themira Lohmani in honor of City College of New York entomologist David LohmanLater surveys also found the new species living in Prospect Park in Brooklyn.

Because the fly breeds only in duck poop, writes Kooser, it requires just the right conditions to thrive. "In natural environments, waterfowl have smaller population and defecation tends to be in the water thus making much of the feces unavailable for breeding by flies," the authors write in the study. "However, in urban parks, waterfowl populations tend to be large and feeding on land which results in larger amounts of feces being dropped on moist soil where the dung provides optimal breeding conditions."

The mating ritual of the fly is also a bit unusual—Ang describes it as “kinky,” according to the press release. The female fly is also able to store sperm from several males, deciding which batch the use when she lays her eggs.

David Lohman, the species' namesake already has a wasp and an orchid named after him. But as he points out in the press release, having this fly named for him is a special honor. “It's not terribly novel to have species named after oneself,” he says. “But new species are not discovered in Central Park very often, so having a New York City-endemic species named after me is rather novel.”

The researchers argue in the study that cities were once considered biodiversity dead zones, but in recent years, researchers have realized that diversity and urban life can coexist. “Themira lohmanus exemplifies how little we know of our natural world even within densely populated cities,” the authors write. Though urbanization can certainly be detrimental to invertebrate diversity and abundance, it appears that not all species are affected—particularly those associated with humans.

"[A]nthropogenic actions can produce an abundance of unique microhabitats that are rare under natural conditions,” they write.

It turns out this is not the first and may not be the last species discovered in the Big Apple or other urban areas. In 2011, researchers discovered a new species of tiny native bee living in the Brooklyn Botanic Garden and in 2014 researchers discovered a new type of leopard frog in the marshes of Staten Island, which was the first new amphibian found in the U.S. in three decades. In April 2016, a biodiversity study in Los Angeles found 43 new species of flies in the city. And in September 2016, a new type of chanterelle mushroom found in Chicago’s Cook County Forest Preserves was named after the city.

So keep your eyes peeled no matter where you are—there may be a new species hiding right under your nose.

About Jason Daley

Jason Daley is a Madison, Wisconsin-based writer specializing in natural history, science, travel, and the environment. His work has appeared in Discover, Popular Science, Outside, Men’s Journal, and other magazines.

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