Empidideicus carrapateira
Empidideicus carrapateira, photographed by one of the researchers involved in the discovery of this species /JORGE ALMEIDA

Origins of two Algarve fly species remain unknown

Portugal has 3,200 known species of flies, but it is estimated that there are close to 6,000 species in the country, threatened by factors such as intensive agriculture or habitat destruction.

“The origin of two species of flies that have only been observed in Carrapateira, on the west coast of the Algarve, is unknown and may never be known as they are exclusive to that area”, explained an entomologist involved in the discovery.

The two species are Empidideicus carrapateira and Empidideicus inesae, whose names are a tribute to their place of discovery and to the daughter of entomologist Jorge Almeida, whose name is Inês, the researcher told Lusa news agency. Almeida discovered the species in 2011 together with Rui Andrade.

“We don’t know the reason. We’ve already tried to see if there were more to the north, and, until today, there are no records of any. We don’t even know anything about their origins”, said Jorge Almeida, acknowledging that we may never know “what would have been the flow of these flies”.

As described in March of this year in an article in the scientific journal Bishop Museum Occasional Papers, signed by the two Portuguese and Neal Evenhuis, the two species are less than two millimetres long. What differentiates them is their colouration: the Empidideicus carrapateira is black, and the Empidideicus inesae is yellowish.

The fact that, to this day, they have only been found in Carrapateira, in the municipality of Aljezur, remains a mystery: “There are many uncertainties, and the practically non-existent network of observations of this order of insects makes it difficult for us to find answers” as to their origin, says Jorge Almeida.

According to the amateur entomologist, who has already been linked to the University of Coimbra, the first time he observed Empidideicus flies in Portugal with Rui Andrade was in the dunes of Apúlia, in the municipality of Esposende, in 2008.

Only later, with the help of specialist Neal Evenhuis, an entomologist who helped them identify the Empidideicus hackmani species, and who works at the J. Linsley Gressitt Center for Research in Entomology at the Bishop Museum in Hawaii, did they realise that they were new to science.

“We only learned that some of them were new to science when we sent the material to Neal Evenhuis, who compared them with the other described Empidideicus species and concluded that these were different”, he admits.

According to Jorge Almeida, Portugal has 3,200 known species of flies. Still, it is estimated that there are close to 6,000 species of flies in the country, threatened by factors such as intensive agriculture or the destruction of their habitat.

“Growing disconnection with nature” slows discoveries

Due to a lack of resources and the forecast of “a growing disconnection with nature”, the entomologist is pessimistic, and many of the Diptera (insects with two wings) remain unknown.

In addition, Jorge Almeida lists a number of obstacles the study of insects faces in Portugal: from the fact that public institutions “are very reticent” to share knowledge to the “complete lack” of support for amateur entomologists.

“The Environment Ministry has been disconnected from its role for years, as well as the overwhelming majority of environmental agencies, which are completely useless”, he criticised, also regretting that there is not “a single serious Portuguese magazine to disseminate discoveries”.

Jorge Almeida underlines that even the Portuguese Society of Entomology was created very late, compared to most other European countries and did not even have a ‘site’. “We are very poorly served with regard to entomology. The panorama will tend to get worse”, he concluded.