Long-legged flies (Order Diptera, Family Dolichopodidae) are the passion of Belgian entomologist Patrick Grootaert.
In Feb 2005, we announced his stay with the Raffles Museum of Biodiversity Research. Patrick, who is Head of the Department of Entomology at the Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences, was on sabbatical leave here from 1st March 2005 to 28th February 2006. Explaining then that his research interest was the taxonomy, systematics and sexual behaviour of Empidoid flies, we had no idea of the limelight he would cast onto this group!
As a warm-up of what lay ahead, his paper with Igor Shamsev was published shortly after in April 2005. There he had described two new species – C. nigripennis was based on a holotype collected from Sungei Buloh and C. singaporensis, from a holotype caught in Chek Jawa.
Almost a year later, we had exciting news. But we saved a “little” titbit for the newspapers and on 6th February 2006, The Straits Times (Singapore) ran a story that screamed “150 new species of flies found.”
Two weeks later at his farewell seminar, he revealed that he lay awake at night wondering how he would finish describing all those new species and that within his insect traps there were probably more species in other groups waiting to be discovered! I remember feeling thrilled that even more mangrove insects were being described and dismayed that we could lose many to extinction.
Patrick went from reverence to amusement, cracking the crowd up when he revealed the names he had provided for new species – he had named dollies after various members of the research community and some had very interesting etymology!
By now, in the biodiversity community in Singapore at least, the term “dollies” was firmly etched in our minds as dipterans in the family Dolichopodidae. This was no mean feat, for the flies had to supplant the otherwise popular Dim Sum Dollies!
In late May 2007, the latest in a series of papers was published. It is the “Revision of the genus Elaphropeza Macquart (Diptera: Hybotidae) from the Oriental Region, with a special attention to the fauna of Singapore,” by I. V. Shamsev & P. Grootaert. Zootaxa, 1488: 164 pp., 31 May 2007 [pdf]. In this monograph, 59 new species of hybotid flies in the genus Elaphropeza are described – remarkable since only 79 were known of this group before!
‘Of the 51 new species only 43 have been given a name.’ And amongst the names of new species are names of familiar places and people that Patrick had energetically proclaimed, at that seminar in February 2006! They include:
- Places – E. sime, E. neesoonensis, E. chekjawa, E. bulohensis, E. temasek and E. ubinensis.
- People – E. yangi, E. yeoi, E. benitotani, E. luanae, E. darrenyeoi, E. murphyi, E. meieri. E. ngi, E. riatanae and E. sivasothii.
Marcus Ng gets lyrical and pens “Names on the fly,” The annotated budak, 14 Jun 2007.
“The Belgian entomologist Patrick Grootaert has been busy surveying habitats in Singapore and Southeast Asia in recent years, seeking tiny flies that mostly thrive only in moist, muddy and mangrove-infested swamps. Little is known about them other than their existence and until Grootaert came along, many lacked names. Often, their presence is indicative of habitats that are pristine and consequently most at risk of degradation from human activities.
Fourteen of these new species are found only in mangroves and the bulk of samples were collected right here in Singapore over a year. Grootaert notes that despite the extensive sampling, a third of local species are known only from singletons and doubletons, suggesting that “a large number of species still remain undiscovered.”
“The obvious message for conservation from Grootaert’s paper is that a vast mountain of unknowns lies within the borders ofÊ this tiny island, which prides itself in biotechnology leadership but seems loathe to protect the unique and irreplaceable genotypic wealth that yet dwell in its diminished ecosystems. “