Goodbye to the Giant Earwig
The St Helena Giant Earwig is following the St Helena Olive into extinction. Last sighted in 1967 and otherwise known as Labidura herculeana the official announcement that the Giant Earwigis no longer with us is really just part of a massive operation involving a tremendous amount of field research and an untold number of hours recording everything that is known about St Helena’s 457 endemic invertebrates, otherwise known as ‘bugs’.
David ‘The Bug man’ Pryce has spent the last eighteen months searching through the undergrowth, under rocks and among the trees and shrubs in search of all sorts of insects. Most of his time though has been devoted to searching through old books, manuscripts and scientific papers for information and records. All of this effort is focussed on counting and cataloguing all species of bugs from the bottom of guts to the tops of ridges which are known to man. Some of the rarest bugs can be literally under your feet; others are clinging to the side of a remote valley.
The Frosted Fungus Weevil is one of those you could easily have trodden on. It is so small you need a microscope to identify it properly. Like the Giant Earwig, the Frosted Fungus Weevil has not been seen since 1967 but is now known to be alive and well and living in Lower Rupert’s Valley. The home of the Frosted Fungus Weevil is under Samphire.
The Blushing Snail was thought to be the last remaining endemic snail surviving in St Helena until 1994 when Phillip and Myrtle Ashmole discovered a reasonable number of Ammonite Snails quietly going about their business in a small remote corner of a high ridge. Previous records of very small populations at two nearby locations were not considered reliable enough as confirmation that Ammonite Snail still lived and breathed. Unlike the Giant Earwig, the Frosted Fungus Weevil and the Ammonite Snail are again known to man and have been officially brought back from near extinction; they are now one step away from the fate of the Giant Earwig and are respectively classified as Endangered and Critically Endangered.
David Pryce’s work comes to a close at the end of the year. So far he has 41,773 individual records in his species information data bank and 267,400 pieces of data in his records file about the 1,337 bugs living in St Helena. 457 of these bugs cannot be found anywhere else on earth; this means 29%, an unusually high proportion, of the invertebrates known to be surviving here are endemics. To put this in proportion, apart from the Frosted Fungus Weevil there are 28 other species of Fungus Weevil in St Helena. The 29 species of this type of weevil surviving within our 47 square miles is more than the total number of similar species known to exist throughout the entire continent of Europe. The Galapagos Islands are world renowned for the unusual species existing within those shores; the tortoise being the most famous of them. When it comes to endemic bugs, St Helena beats the Galapagos hands down. St Helena can claim to have more than seven times more species of endemic invertebrates per square mile than the globally famous and much studied Galapagos Islands.
Apart from assembling the biggest and best bank of data about St Helena’s invertebrates, if David Pryce’s work is put together with Judith Brown’s similar work on marine species and the data held on plants, lichens and mosses; much of it published in 2012 by Phil Lambdon, Martin Wigginton and Andre Aptroot, St Helena now has the best knowledge base on its endemic terrestrial and marine wild life populations of any geographical area anywhere in the world.
The downside to all this is that when David Pryce’s work is finished it is expected that most of the 457 bugs will be classified as Endangered, Critically Endangered or Vulnerable and will be officially ‘Red Listed’ by the International Union for Conservation of Nature [IUCN]. At present only 24 St Helenian bugs are officially red listed; a further 391 need to be classified. So far, work on only 16 of the 391 has been completed. The IUCN have rigorous methods for officially classifying any species and David’s field research and records are being used to confirm the status of the Island’s invertebrates. Together with Liza White at the Environmental Management Division David is working through the list of endemic bugs to put together the data required for each individual species in order to get official international recognition of their extinction risk. Having established the numbers of species in St Helena whose existence is threatened it is possible that international cooperation to protect them will be more forthcoming.
David Pryce is part of the St Helena National Trust Bugs on the Brink Project which is working to lay the foundations for the conservation of St Helena’s unique bugs, many of which are on the brink of extinction. It is a partnership project between Buglife, Saint Helena National Trust, Saint Helena Government and Centre for Ecology and Hydrology and is funded by the Darwin Initiative.