'Kinky' new fly species found hiding in New York park

Scientists discover a new kind of fly with unusual mating behaviors buzzing around New York City.

This figure shows all the bits of an adult male Themira lohmanus.
Yuchen Ang/Rudolf Meier/Kathy Feng-Yi Su/Gowri Rajaratnam

New York's Central Park is home to ponds, a forest, fields, a carousel, hot dog vendors and a newly discovered species of fly that's been hiding in plain sight. Themira lohmanus lives on duck poop when young and is named for City College of New York entomologist David Lohman

How does a species fly under the radar in such a populated and well-studied place as New York City? The fly was first collected in 2007, but was originally misidentified as a member of a known species. 

So far, Themira lohmanus has only been found in New York City's Central Park and Prospect Park. "The species breeds on waterfowl dung and it is hypothesized that this makes the species rare in natural environments. However, it thrives in urban parks where the public feeds ducks and geese," notes a study on the fly published in the journal ZooKeys.

National University of Singapore evolutionary biologist Yuchen Ang calls the fly's mating ritual "kinky." Ang led a team of researchers who analyzed the fly and its mating behaviors to determine its standing as a new species. A Monday City College of New York release on the study says the male fly employs "unusual methods and appendages" while the female stores sperm from multiple males and then chooses which sperm to use for her eggs. 

This isn't the first critter to bear Lohman's name. The scientist also has a wasp and an orchid species sharing his name, but says "having a New York City-endemic species named after me is rather novel." 

The fly is a reminder of how new biological discoveries can lurk in unexpected places, even in a city with over 8 million human residents.