St Helena Online

Tag: giant earwig

£180,000 raised in battle to save rare species

An appeal for money to save threatened species in UK overseas territories – including St Helena’s spiky yellow woodlouse – has raised three quarters of its £240,000 target.

The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds urges would-be donors to support “a team effort” with conservationists, governments and local people.

When the appeal was launched, the organisation’s website said the St Helena Olive tree was the most recent species to be lost.

Since then, the island’s giant earwig has also been declared extinct.

The appeal page says:

St Helena’s precious cloud forest is home to the black cabbage tree, which grows in only one place – and only 250 square metres are left. This habitat is the only place where the spiky yellow woodlouse is found. There are fewer than 50 woodlice left, living on just 20 ferns. We’re creating an artificial forest canopy to keep the ferns the way the woodlice like them.

The Tristan albatross is only found in this territory, with all except two pairs nesting on Gough Island. It’s on the brink of extinction, and sadly introduced house mice eat albatross chicks alive and in total kill over half a million seabird chicks here every year. We’re working on ways of getting rid of the mice.

We’re also taking steps to save the severely endangered Wilkins’ bunting, which only lives on one tiny island in the entire world, Nightingale. There are only 80 pairs in existence, so we’re helping them by planting more of their favourite trees.

The RSPB says a £15 donation can fund a square metre of shade canopy in the St Helena cloud forest.

The website also has a 17-minute film, Invaders of the UK Overseas Territories, about the diversity of Britain’s far-off islands and the threat posed by alien species. St Helenian conservationist Stedson Stroud is shown, telling how seabirds have returned to Ascension after the eradication of feral cats.

Read about the UK overseas territories appeal
Watch the Invaders film

Lost chance to save the giant earwig
Rare island woodlouse ‘is just hanging on’
Frigatebird chick is island’s first for a century (plus: St Helena’s booby boomers)


Oh no, earwig go…

Takeshi Yamada, a collector of strange creatures, is the proud owner of what appears to be a St Helena giant earwig – a specimen made more valuable by last week’s news that the species is likely to be officially declared extinct.

But it doesn’t deceive Dr Roger Key, who visited St Helena in 2013 as part of the Bugs on the Brink project.

He has posted a picture of the creature on the internet, with the following caption:

“Don’t be fooled! This a clever fake, produced by Takeshi Yamada. As far as I can gather it is the head of a longhorn beetle, various bits of probably two cockroaches (the thorax, abdomen and wings) and the ‘pincers’ are probably jaws from a large beetle or dobsonfly.”

Mr Takeshi is no fraud. He is an artist who creates fantastical creatures, including a vast sea monster, using his skills as a taxidermist.

Click here to see the picture.

SEE ALSO: Rare island woodlouse is ‘just hanging on’, says expert

Rare island woodlouse is ‘just hanging on’, says expert

St Helena’s unique Spiky Yellow Woodlouse species is struggling to survive, a comment by visiting expert Dr Roger Key has suggested.

High Peak is home to St Helena's "amazing" woodlouse. Picture: Neil George
High Peak is home to St Helena’s “amazing” woodlouse. Picture: Neil George

The plight of the “amazing little creature” was noted back in 2003, when Dr Rebecca Cairns-Wicks of St Helena National Trust said it was “not as common as it was just ten years ago”.

Dr Key referred to the unusual tree-climbing woodlouse in an interview, after several weeks of surveys of “all the creepy-crawlies that St Helena is so special for”.

He told SAMS radio that a number of endemic invertebrates on the island appeared to be going the way of the giant earwig, which is listed as critically endangered but may now be extinct.

“All the way through Britain and all its overseas territories,” he said, “half of all the bugs that only occur in one place are actually in St Helena.

“There are 400 odd species that only occur in St Helena. Unfortunately, that number’s going down.

Invasives such as flax are a threat to habitat
Invasives such as flax are a threat to habitat

“Everybody’s heard of the giant earwig, which was last seen in the Sixties and it was four inches long, so it probably isn’t around any longer.

“You also have things like the Spiky Yellow Woodlouse, which is still here, just, but is only hanging on by the skin of its feet.”

The giant earwig is the only St Helena invertebrate to feature on the global “red list” of endangered species – along with the wirebird and several species of fish.

He said that fellow scientist Dr David Price would be working out the rarity of various species and seeking international help conserving them, during a two-year contract on the island.

That may mean finding a balance between the needs of invertebrates and other sensitive species, said Dr Key.

Governor Mark Capes joined the effort to create new habitat
Governor Mark Capes helped to create new habitat

“Sometimes doing the right things for the plants and the birds might be a little bit different to what you do for the invertebrates, so it’s working out what works for everything.”

In a 2003 report for the St Helena National Trust newsletter, Dr Cairns-Wicks described the Spiky Yellow Woodlouse’s unusual liking for climbing the branches of tree ferns and other endemics.

“It has been called a ‘living’ fossil because it is an ancient species,” she said. “It has distant relatives as far apart as South America, Madagascar, South Africa and Australia.

“It is because it is so unique and ‘ancient’ that it is highly important, and it could help in the study of how today’s continents came to be formed.

“Unfortunately, however, the Spiky Yellow Woodlouse has only ever been recorded from High Peak in recent times. Only a tiny fragment of tree-fern thicket and cabbage trees survive at High Peak, and they are heavily invaded by flax, fuchsia, bilberry and other invasive plant species.

“Occasional observation suggests that the Spiky Yellow Woodlouse is not as common as it was just 10 years ago.”

The Trust has since begun a programme to revive the cloud forest along High Peak and the ridges above Broad Bottom by removing invasive species and planting endemics.

Wirebird remains of global danger list, thanks to airport
The gloves are on: governor joins fight against invastives

Spiky Yellow Woodlouse – St Helena National Trust newsletter