Similar but not the same – revealed

Half of the respondents of my quick survey: similar but not the same think that there are five firefly species in this photo (not bad!). Actually, there are six species in total, including a newly described species from Balingian, Sarawak (manuscript in review). Well done to four anonymous friends who voted for six species  (are you Coleopterists?)

From dorsal view (top side), it is almost impossible to distinguish between species of Pteroptyx – aren’t they alike? So it is not surprising if someone thought there is only one species in this photo. How to distinguish them then? If you look at the firefly from ventral view (bottom side), you can find a light organ (whitish / creamy colour) on its abdomen. In other words, each firefly species has its dedicated light organ.

So, next time if you want experts to identify any firefly species using photos, make sure to send photos of your specimen with dorsal and ventral views.

Thanks to All for participating in this survey – stay tuned for more (fun) surveys!

Natural History Museum

“Dippy the Dinosaur” and “Hope the Blue Whale”

It was Dippy, the dinosaur skeleton cast of Diplodocus on display in Hintze Hall when I made a first visit to the Natural History Museum, London in 2014. At that time I was at the final stage of my PhD seeking for curatorial experience with the Coleopterists at NHM. Never once did I imagine that one day I will be back to the same place. Four years have passed since my last visit and here I am again, at the NHM – this time, a stunning 25.2 metres, Hope the Blue Whale is on display in Hintze Hall!


Read more about Hope the Blue Whale: Museum unveils ‘Hope’ the blue whale skeleton and Dippy the Dinosaur: Diplodocus : this is your life

Conservation, Ecotourism, Places

Kuala Sepetang

Behind the scene

I have fond memories of Kuala Sepetang, a place where I was first introduced to fireflies. It was also my very first independent fieldwork experience. After changing my undergraduate project proposals 8 times I finally decided to research on fireflies and my final year project (FYP)’s supervisor approved it.  Number eight may be a lucky number to some, but in this case I believe one thing, i.e. everyone loves fireflies, and that everyone includes my supervisor.

Why Kuala Sepetang? A cliché answer would be, why not?

View of Kuala Sepetang’s fishing village in 2007.

Well, that was not actually my answer. Back in 2006, there was no such thing as firefly watching in Kuala Sepetang. This coastal town or formerly known as Port Weld is a fishing village in Taiping, Perak, best known for its “world’s best sustainably managed” mangrove forests, thriving fish breeding in cages and charcoal factories (not to forget, the infamous estuarine crocodiles!).  It was the Forest District Office of Larut Matang’s invitation to study and promote fireflies of Kuala Sepetang so that it can be part of ecotourism package for Taiping, like in Kuala Selangor. Long stories short, I ‘magically’ happened to be the one of those who accepted the invitation.  My supervisor happily came up with a catchy title for my thesis: 

Mapping fireflies (Pteroptyx tener) for Ecotourism Potential at Matang Mangrove Forest Reserve, Kuala Sepetang

How did I map the fireflies? How did I know they are Pteroptyx tener? Here are the fast facts about fireflies in Kuala Sepetang based on the study that I conducted between 2006 and 2007:

4 Fast facts

  • Fireflies can be found along an-8km stretch of mangroves in Sepetang estuary (kuala=estuary). If river mouth of Sepetang is your departure point, you will find the first tree(s) with fireflies after boating for about 5km from your departure point and end up right after Kg. Dew’s bridge. This is how I “mapped” the fireflies i.e. based on the first and last trees that fireflies were seen congregating on at night.


Fireflies were spotted about 5 km from the river mouth until 13 km from the river mouth. The dots represent firefly display sections  (Jusoh et al. 2010, Fig. 1)
How to tag firefly dispaly tree
How to tag firefly display trees (or “colonies”) based on Jusoh (2007), modified from Motuyang (1992). 
  • One species i.e. Pteroptyx tener Olivier was identified in Sepetang as reported by Zaidi et al. (2006) hence quoted for this study – but actually there are more than one species in this area (this will be discussed in the next post: Kuala Sepetang revisited.
  • Fireflies might seem to prefer Berembang  trees (Sonneratia caseolaris) as their display trees over other mangrove species, but they congregate on other trees too. (read next posts: Kerteh and Rembau-Linggi).
  • The relative abundance of fireflies were counted based on visual estimate of percentage cover. Check out this technique: percentage cover

Continue reading “Kuala Sepetang”

Outreach, Species, Taxonomy

Similar but not the same

How many species of fireflies do you think in this photo?


  1. They belong to one genus
  2. Their habitat is mangrove
  3. Look at their light organs

Science Communication

Let’s shine a light on fireflies

Ten years after I started collating the literature about fireflies in Malaysia, still not much information is published about these wonderful insects. While this problem is not restricted to invertebrate studies, addressing it was seen to be challenging as Ballantyne (2012, p. 4) points out:

you do not own your fauna

This is because most firefly collections were made by Europeans during colonial periods, and thus the collections were sold / donated to European museums especially to the UK and Paris for permanent repositories. Without any type specimens in local museums and no further taxonomic revisions being done since centuries ago, identified collections in Malaysia / Singapore are still scarce.

ZMUM coll-2
One of the very rare firefly specimen collections at Museum of Zoology, University of Malaya waiting to be identified. Specimens with circular-shaped labels are fireflies collected from Singapore at least a century ago.

But that is not our only problem. Our fireflies, like other invertebrate fauna in Southeast Asian region, are also suffering greatly from “seven impediments in invertebrate conservationsensu Cardoso et al. (2011), primarily due to lack of such experts from our region.

It is unfortunate that we may not be able to get our precious insects (however long dead in the European museums) back to our countries, perhaps forever. Luckily we can gain much through scientific research collaborations and networking. And most importantly,  we need to  share our research findings with a wider audience – this is what kelipx2 for!


  • Ballantyne, L. A. 2012. Taxonomy – help or hindrance in Southeast Asia? Keynote address Proceedings of the Second International Firefly Symposium, Malaysia, Lampyrid 2, 1-12.
  • Cardoso, P., Erwin, T. L., Borges, P. A., & New, T. R. 2011. The seven impediments in invertebrate conservation and how to overcome them. Biological Conservation, 144(11), 2647-2655.