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Two new insects discovered in UAE

19/07/2010 08:09:14

NEW FIND: Ochthebius wurayah

Wadi Wurayah's biodiversity is worth protecting

July 2010: Two new insect species have been discovered in the UAE's first mountain protected area, Wadi Wurayah; a tiny, 2mm long aquatic beetle (Coleoptera): Ochthebius wurayah, and a wasp species commonly known as a ‘velvet ant' (Hymenoptera), approximately 5mm long: Nanomutilla wurayahensis.

The findings come as part of an intensive inventory of the arthropod fauna (insects, spiders, scorpions, terrestrial crustaceans) of the UAE, coordinated by Anthony van Harten.

‘The UAE is often considered a desert barren land with no biodiversity at all which is incorrect as Wadi Wurayah consistently shows us. Thanks to the work of Mr. van Harten and his colleagues, we have further proof of the area's importance which is due to the habitat's natural diversity and the presence of permanent water,' stated Dr Christophe Tourenq, EWS-WWF science and research manager.

‘We are very grateful to Mr. van Harten for sharing the fruit of his long meticulous work which can be considered a stepping stone for a better future and the conservation of the UAE's fauna. These discoveries perfectly illustrate the cooperation between an NGO (EWS-WWF), a government body (Fujairah Municipality) and the international scientific community.' 

So far, a total of 1,350 species have been added to the list of species known in the UAE. Of the ten genera, one subgenus, 235 species and six subspecies of arthropods new to science that have been discovered residing in the country so far, 30 species have been found to occur in the Wadi Wurayah Protected Area. From these 30 species, 14 were originally found (and first described) from the protected area. 

RESEARCH: Dr Christophe Tourenq and Maral
Shuriqi inspect a pool in Wadi Wurayah

Commenting on the discoveries, Anthony van Harten stated: ‘The only way to protect the enormous amount of insect species from extinction is to preserve the areas that support a diversity of insect species, many of them so tiny that they cannot be seen by the naked eye. Wadi Wurayah certainly is such an area.'

Mayfly's adult life span can be just 30 minutes
Five of the new species found in Wadi Wurayah are mayflies (Ephemeroptera), which spend most of their life as aquatic larvae. The adult mayfly's life span is very short and can vary from just 30 minutes to one day, depending on the species. Because their mouthparts are vestigial, and their digestive system is filled with air, adult mayflies don't feed. Instead, they spend their short life focused on reproduction, dancing around each other, sometimes forming large groups above the water. The mayfly larvae are very sensitive to pollution and are used as indicators of good water quality worldwide.

Dr Tourenq adds: ‘Insects are an important part of the Wadi's ecosystem, health and functioning. As predators, preys or detritivores, they are essential elements of the food web. For example, geckos residing within Wadi Wurayah's mountains are part of the diet of the endangered wild cat (Felis silvestris lybica). Geckos feed on beetles, some of which are coprophagous or necrophagous, meaning they feed respectively on the faeces (droppings) or carrion (dead body) of wild cats and geckos. Beetles help then in the decomposing of the organic matter and contribute to the nutrient cycles. 

WASP SPECIES: Nanomutilla wurayahensis

‘This is also true for Wadi Wurayah streams: aquatic larvae of mayflies are mostly detritivorous, or herbivorous (feeding on living vegetal matter), and in turn will be the prey of dragonfly larvae. Later on, both mayfly and dragonfly adult forms will be prey of the endemic Arabian toad (Bufo arabicus), which is part of the discrete Little Bittern's (Ixobrychus minutus) diet - a small heron that frequents the wadi during its migration. Toad and Little Bittern faeces will enrich streams with organic matter helping vegetal matter grow, and the nutrient cycle goes on.'

Lisa Perry, conservation programme director at EWS-WWF commented on the new discoveries: ‘These findings demonstrate that Wadi Wurayah can be considered a stronghold for the invertebrate fauna in the UAE. I hope that the research conducted over the past period will further enable us to carry on with our conservation work in the region with Fujairah municipality that has given us its unyielding support. Now that these new species have been found, more needs to be done to understand their status, their "lifestyle" and their role in the unique Wadi Wurayah ecosystem.'

Mr. Van Harten will continue his research of the UAE during the course of the next year, with the results being described and named accordingly.


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