Flying high on Bitcoin

By Alice Gage and Claire Vince 28 September 2022
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Whether the value of Bitcoin cryptocurrency rises or falls, its legacy will now live on forever in the form of a newly discovered fly from Papua New Guinea named Chrysosoma bitcoin.

The previously unknown fly species from the rainforest-covered mountain ranges of PNG is a member of the family Dolichopodidae (long-legged flies), which belongs to a group of 13 species all with beautifully patterned brown wings and long hairs (setae) on their front legs. AM entomologist Dr Dan Bickel sorted Chrysoosma bitcoin and related species from the extensive collections of the Australian Museum and other institutions.

The first named species of this group was collected in 1857 by the famed naturalist Alfred Russel Wallace during his stay on the Aru Islands off Indonesian Papua.

So how does such a fly end up with a name like Bitcoin? The fly was named by venture capitalist Mark Carnegie and cryptocurrency entrepreneur Sergei Sergienko. They won naming rights by being the highest bidders for the prize at the 2021 Australian Museum Foundation Gala Dinner auction. The name is apt – for the first time in the AM’s history, Carnegie and Sergienko paid for the donation in Bitcoin.

Dr Bickel sorted Chrysoosma bitcoin and related species from the extensive collections of the Australian Museum and other institutions. He said there is no question that the historic natural science collections are vital resources for researchers.

“Australia has more than 25,000 species of flies, and the AM has a hugely significant collection of over 150,000 specimens representing the 14 countries that make up Oceania, including Australia and PNG. Chrysosoma bitcoin, known primarily from the highland provinces of PNG at altitudes of 1500m to 2400m, is certainly an enchanting species with its striking bands of colour,” Dr Bickel said.

“Overall, flies are one of the most common and diverse groups of animals on Earth. Although we often find them annoying, they serve many important roles – they are the second most important pollinator group after bees of both native and many crop plants,” he said.

“However, insects are under extreme threat with deforestation, climate change and the use of pesticides. There are still millions of species out there, especially in the tropical regions which we are yet to discover and describe,” Dr Bickel added.

Chrysosoma bitcoin is a member of the family Dolichopodidae (long-legged flies). Image credit: Piotr Naskrecki/Australian Museum

Carnegie and Sergienko see advances in digital technology as great opportunities for cultural institutions to enhance the preservation of the collections, democratise knowledge and explore new fundraising initiatives.

“We have the capability to reposition cultural institutions at the forefront of the digital revolution, and are dedicated to ensuring Australia doesn’t get left behind through the ongoing disruption,” Carnegie said.

“I acknowledge Bitcoin mining has negative environmental consequences and want to make sure no one in a crypto project with me is not clearly buying multiple offsets. That is why we have purchased more than three times the amount of carbon credits needed to offset our Bitcoin donation through Australian, Melanesian and on-chain projects,” Carnegie added. “I respect the Australian Museum as a leading cultural institution in the world, knowing that they have placed great trust in us, and want what we do to attract comment but not criticism.”

Professor Kristofer Helgen, Australian Museum Chief Scientist, said it is conservatively estimated that there are over eight million species of life on Earth, yet only approximately 25 percent have been named.

“We share this planet with millions of species, though we rarely think about them. Yet, they are vitally important to our own existence, with each species forming part of the ecosystems that enable us to breathe clean air, drink clean water, and obtain the food we need,” Helgen said.

“Insects may not usually attract the attention of the world of finance, but they are very valuable to us in their own right. Each species is valuable—we might think of species as the currency of the natural world,” he added.

This article was originally publish by the Australian Museum and reproduced with permission.

Related: Why flies are way cooler than you think: Bryan Lessard