It started with a friendly wager. An LA Natural History Museum trustee bet Brian Brown, the museum's entomology curator, that the city's smog-filled nooks were no place for new insect species to be found. The first bug Brown caught proved to be previously undiscovered, inspiring the Biodiversity Science: City and Nature project, a three-year experiment that ended up turning up not one, but 30 discrete flies from the Megaselia species in the city, says a museum release. The BioSCAN study, set to be published April 6 in Zootaxa, erected 30 "sampling sites" with traps and weather stations, recruiting 30 locals to offer their backyards as outdoor labs. "I'd be less surprised to find hundreds of new species of Megaselia at a remote site in Costa Rica than I was to find 30 new species right here in LA," lead author Emily Hartop tells the Washington Post.
Hartop analyzed more than 10,000 fly samples, and to figure out which species was which, she had to get a bit personal. "I'm going to say 90% of our identification work focuses on [genitalia] for flies," she writes in an NHM blog post. (Interested parties can check out Gizmodo's fly genitalia chart.) She even came up with pet names: "This one's genitalia look like bunny ears, I'll name it 'Bunny,' this one has setae … that remind me of a 1980s troll doll, I'll name it 'Troll,'" she says. Not only did this report prove biodiversity doesn't have to take place on a lush, tropical isle—it also offers hope of finding even more hidden creatures in urban areas. Fringe benefit for volunteers: Each new species was named after the participant in whose yard it was found. (But do the flies have individual personalities like cockroaches do?)