“Matsu Islands Rhagophthalmidae Firefly Wildlife Refuge” Announced for the Conservation of Two Firefly Species Endemic to Matsu

The R. beigansis and R. giallolateralus fireflies of the Matsu Islands are two species of fireflies that were newly discovered in 2012. They can only be found in the Matsu Islands, with fewer than 200 individuals remaining. On May 3, for the conservation and preservation of the Rhagophthalmidae firefly habitats in the Matsu Islands, the Council of Agriculture (COA) and the Lienchiang County Government announced the “Matsu Islands Rhagophthalmidae Firefly Wildlife Habitat” and “Matsu Islands Rhagophthalmidae Firefly Wildlife Refuge,” covering nearly 13 hectares, including Beigan Township, Dongju Island, and Xiju Island. These are the first protected areas for wildlife designated for insects within an insular ecosystem.
The characteristics of both the continental and island climates can be found in the Matsu Islands, creating a unique ecosystem. In 2007, Principal Wang Chien-Hua of Dong Jyu Elementary School first discovered Rhagophthalmidae fireflies in the area. With the late Dr. Ho Jen-Zon of the Endemic Species Research Institute (ESRI) of the COA assisting in the investigation, he identified and confirmed in 2012 that the Rhagophthalmidae fireflies of the Matsu Islands were new species, and immediately published this discovery. These fireflies in the Rhagophthalmidae family were named R. beigansis and R. giallolateralus to commemorate their special biogeographic characteristics.
According to the investigation commissioned by the Lienchiang County Government, R. beigansis can only be found in Beigan Island, Daqiu Island, and Gaodeng Island, while R. giallolateralus can only be seen in Dongju Island and Xiju Island, and both species are endemic to the Matsu region. The fireflies prefer to inhabit open grasslands that are low and sparse. In recent years, due to road and infrastructure development and light pollution, the distribution locations and populations of Rhagophthalmidae have been on the decline. Furthermore, genetic sequence analysis revealed that the genetic diversity of both Rhagophthalmidae species is extremely low, which is not conducive to future adaptive evolution. The establishment of protected areas can prevent habitat fragmentation and man-made infrastructures from harming the population, and protect the few remaining habitats of fireflies.
Unlike most fireflies, with male fireflies producing the light, for Rhagophthalmidae fireflies, it is the adult females that emit light for courtship. In addition, adult female fireflies remain in the larvae form throughout their entire lifespan and do not have wings, so they do not fly around at night like other fireflies. Female fireflies only stay on the ground with their tail emitters held high to attract male adults. After mating, females find a concealed place to lay and protect their eggs. When protecting their eggs, the thoracic and abdominal segments of female fireflies' bodies emit a dotted light, which is also different from common fireflies.
According to the Lienchiang County Government, thanks to their unique habitats and behaviors, Rhagophthalmidae fireflies have great potential for being developed into nighttime ecotourism in the Matsu Islands. If the populations can increase after conservation, there will be an opportunity for the fireflies to become an important natural resource of the area, just like the Blue Tears (Noctiluca scintillans). In the future, the county government will also fulfill its management responsibilities and actively promote ecological conservation among the public, building community consensus to boost community tourism and develop sustainable ecotourism in Matsu, while taking into account the conservation of biological resources.
The Forestry Bureau said that the core area of the “Matsu Islands Rhagophthalmidae Firefly Wildlife Refuge,” which was declared in accordance with the Wildlife Conservation Act, includes Beigan Township (Juguang Fort), Dongju of Juguang Township (from the District Public Health Center to the gas station), and Xiju of Juguang Township (Yurong Road), with a total area of 8.30563 hectares, and a total buffer area of 4.684897 hectares in the surrounding habitats of the core area. The management unit is the Lienchiang County Government, and the administrative authorities include the National Property Administration of the Ministry of Finance and the Armaments Bureau of the Ministry of National Defense. The core zone of the protected area is strictly controlled and cannot be entered without permission, nor can the habitat, topography, or landscape be altered or used for other development projects, except for agricultural activities, eco-tours, and agricultural facilities that existed prior to the establishment of the protected area, which are not subject to this restriction as long as there is no expansion and the operations follow eco-friendly guidelines. The core area will also be under controlled lighting management to reduce light pollution and interference with the Rhagophthalmidae fireflies’ courtship behavior.
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