Problem Animals

A bit of a nuisance

Insisting on perfect safety is for people who don’t have the balls to live in the real world.
Mary Shafer, NASA Ames Dryden

No dangerous animals live here, but some can be a bit of a nuisance

Grasshoppers are harmless, but will steal your tea… ☺
Grasshoppers are harmless, but will steal your tea…

Below: No Snakes • Centipedes • Scorpions • Spiders • Mosquitoes • Buzzy Things • Other bugs • Gallery • Larger nuisances • Read More

St Helena has only a few mildly problematic animals, most of which you are fairly unlikely to encounter, but just in case and so you are prepared…

Images of the animals described appear in the Gallery (below).

No Snakes

There are no snakes on St Helena, venomous or otherwise. Exactly why is not clear{1}. Geckos (locally known as a ‘lizard’) made it to the island, as did amphibians (though some of the frogs might have been introduced), but snakes never arrived here. Unsurprisingly, nobody ever tried to introduce them. It might be argued that introducing non-venemous snakes might help control our rats and mice, but as they might also take to predating Wirebirds such a proposal is very unlikely to gain acceptance. Basil Read brought in massive amounts of sand from Namibia for building the airport and fear was expressed that snakes might evade bio-security, but nothing has been reported (apart from the Moncat!)

Centipedes

In the drier parts of the island (mostly Jamestown and Half Tree Hollow) you may encounter !! a largish (up to 10cm) centipede, scolopendra morsitans, dark brown with reddish highlights at the head and tail. These have a very painful bite and are best avoided. They can be killed with Crawling Insect Spray, available in shops. Check sinks, baths and shower trays - they fall in when hunting and can’t get back out. Like scorpions they also sometimes hide in shoes{2}. There are no records of fatalities or serious illnesses from encounters with these.

Scorpions

Also in the drier parts of the island, but more rare, is a !! small brown scorpion isometrus maculatus. These can sting, which is painful and could cause a problem for smaller children and sensitised adults. They hunt at night so are rarely seen but may be disturbed hiding in a cool place. Like centipedes they also sometimes hide in shoes{2}. There are no records of fatalities or serious illnesses from encounters with these.

Spiders

St Helena has many species of spider, which in some cases look a lot more threatening than they actually are and some of which are quite beautiful (the Orb Web spider argiope trifasciata, for example). Most are completely harmless, though a few can bite with only mild pain. The only exception is the !! Brown Widow Spider, latrodectus geometricus, which is found on Prosperous Bay Plain and perhaps elsewhere, but as far as we are aware only entomologists have ever encountered one. They too can bite and could cause a problem for smaller children and sensitised adults (if you can find one). There are no records of fatalities or serious illnesses from encounters with these.

There is a non-dangerous species of funnel-web spider, which can grow to 5cm. You may find them on the outside of houses across the island.

In 2003 it was reported that the much more worrying Black Widow Spider, latrodectus tredecimguttatus, had been found on the island, but this turned out to be a mistake. It is erroneously listed in ‘St Helena and Ascension: a Natural History’{3} by Philip and Myrtle Ashmole.

We have lots of interesting endemic spiders - all completely harmless (unless you’re a fly!)

Mosquitoes

Mosquitoes are a nuisance here as they are in most tropical and sub-tropical countries. The good news is that ours (culex quinquefasciatus) do not carry malaria, so while the bites are a nuisance and the whine of a hunting mosquito can disturb you{4} they are an irritation rather than a problem. Mosquito nets are not widely available but the shops sell mosquito coils which burn for 10-12 hours, room sprays and ‘peaceful sleep’ tablets (for which you also need an electric burner). Mosquitoes are not a problem in the winter except in Jamestown and Half Tree Hollow.

11th June 1734: The water stored in tubs in Chapel Valley is declared to be the breeding ground for swarms of mosquitoes which invade every house.

There is also a fly, empicoris rubromaculatus which looks like a mosquito, though slightly larger. This does not bite. Looking like a mosquito is not, in our opinion, a survival trait…

Buzzy Things

Bees can, of course, sting if bothered. Very few people suffer an allergic reaction requiring a hospital visit. Bees occasionally get trapped in houses. Please do not kill stray bees! They can be shooed out gently with a newspaper.

European Wasps, vespula germanica, are occasionally encountered. These will sting if disturbed. The sting is painful and very few people suffer an allergic reaction requiring a hospital visit. If you do spot one, or locate a nest, please report it (call (+290) 22270 or (+290) 22470) - they are an invasive species and there is a programme in place to track down and destroy wasp nests. Please do not confuse wasps with bees - they are a vivid yellow colour, which bees are not.

17th January 1977: European Wasps invade St Helena. Nine nests are destroyed. They are occasionally seen to this day.

Flies are, of course, a nuisance. They get everywhere! The climate is mostly to blame. Shops sell a variety of fly sprays.

Other bugs

Cockroaches, blattodea (various species), are inevitable in a sub-tropical climate. They are unpleasant but not harmful.

If you see something that looks like a ladybird but instead of being basically red with black dots, is actually mostly or totally black, these are our ladybirds. The colour is presumably an evolutionary adaption.

Many Saints believe ‘Button Worms’ (Millipedes, diplopoda julida) can bite, but they are actually completely harmless.

Gallery

!! Centipede, scolopendra morsitans
!! Centipede, scolopendra morsitans

Orb Web Spider, argiope trifasciata
Orb Web Spider, argiope trifasciata

!! Brown Widow Spider, latrodectus geometricus
!! Brown Widow Spider, latrodectus geometricus

‘orrible ‘airy Spider!
‘orrible ‘airy Spider!

Mosquito culex quinquefasciatus
Mosquito culex quinquefasciatus

European Wasp, vespula germanica
European Wasp, vespula germanica

Cockroach, blattodea (various)
Cockroach, blattodea (various)

Button Worm (Millipede), diplopoda julida
Button Worm (Millipede), diplopoda julida

 

Larger nuisances

Rat

Rats exist on the island but stay away from humans. Similarly mice live throughout the island. Do not attract them by leaving food out overnight. Rat and mouse traps and poison can be bought, though if you are here for a longer period it may be simpler to acquire a cat.

Mynah Birds tend to be infested with lice so it is best not to touch dead ones. The same applies to the feral pigeons found in Jamestown (those living ‘Up Country’ have a better diet and are much healthier).

Stray dogs are rare and in any case do not cause any problems. Dogs may often be seen wandering around unaccompanied but these are normally owned and homed, just let out for a walk. They occasionally cause problems for drivers and should, officially, never be allowed out to roam, but…

Other than waking you up in the middle of the night with a noisy territorial battle, cats do not cause a problem. All domestic cats are licenced. Stray cats are rounded up and exterminated, to protect Wirebirds.

Mynah Birds, dogs, cats and (probably) rats used to raid bin-bags, and flies used to breed in them but the introduction of ‘wheelie bins’ in 2014 put an end to this.

Wild rabbits are a problem for farmers, particularly since gun licencing was tightened so that rabbit shooting (for food or rest control) became much harder.

18th April 2008: The Invasive Species Project announces the results of a rabbit ‘census’ - the count is 30,000. They estimate the rat population at five times that number.

Wild Goats are no longer a problem. Since January 1962 it has been illegal to own an un-tethered goat.

If you spot the Moncat please take a photograph and contact the news media!.

Read More

Below: Article: New wasp genus found on remote St Helena • Article: False Scorpion capitol of the world!

Article: New wasp genus found on remote St Helena

Published in the St Helena Independent 23rd January 2015{5}

helenanomalon bonapartei
One of the new wasps species, helenanomalon bonapartei

Two species of wasp have been identified as belonging to a whole new genus endemic to the isolated Atlantic island of St Helena.

St Helena, a British Overseas Territory, is home to more than 400 species that can’t be found anywhere else. However, the wildlife is under serious threat from development and invasive species.

The new wasp genus, named helenanomalon in honour of its home territory, belongs to a family of parasitic wasps - those that spend a part of their lifecycle on another organism that they eventually kill. However, little is known about the specific lifestyle of helenanomalon since only a handful of specimens are known to exist.

The most recent specimens came to the Museum following a collecting expedition in 2006 that included the former Head of Entomology collections at the Museum, Howard Mendel. On re-examining the specimens, and a couple of others at the Musée de l’Afrique Centrale, Museum hymenoptera curator Dr. Gavin Broad assigned them to two different species in the new genus: These little wasps belong to the family ichneumonidae, a huge family with over 24,000 described species in the world, but with only six species known to have made it all the way to St Helena. That two of these species form a genus not known anywhere else in the world is remarkable.

One of the new species, helenanomalon bonapartei, is named after St Helena’s most famous exile, while helenanomalon ashmolei is named after Philip and Myrtle Ashmole, who have led recent work in exploring and documenting the fauna of St Helena.

Islands like St Helena often host unique organisms that have evolved in isolation for millions of years. However, these species are also extremely vulnerable to changes such as introduced predators and habitat loss.

St Helena used to be home to the world’s largest earwig, the giant earwig, which reached over 8cm long and lived in deep burrows. Only a few specimens of the giant earwig have been recorded, and several scouting trips since the 1960s have failed to find any living examples. It is now considered extinct.

Says Dr. Broad: The extinction of the giant earwig was a sad reminder of how vulnerable island endemics can be. There is still much work to be done on assessing just how unique the St Helena fauna is, and Philip Ashmole tells me that they have collected other potentially new genera of insects and spiders but the taxonomy of the groups concerned is difficult and there are few people with the expertise.

The native vegetation has been massively reduced by the usual pressures of introduced goats, non-native species, inappropriate agriculture, and so on. Restoring the native vegetation, particularly the seriously denuded forests, is the most important step in conserving the unique invertebrates.

Article: False Scorpion capitol of the world!

Published in the St Helena Herald 24th February 2012{5}

False Scorpion
False Scorpion

False scorpions! The very name conjures up scary creatures that are not only scorpions - but ones that are doubly unreliable by being false. Fortunately, nothing could be further from the truth. Unlike their ‘true’ counterparts, false scorpions are tiny. Harmless and cute, lacking the offensive apparatus of the true scorpions, not even possessing their cocked over tail, the real resemblance lies in the two relatively big pincers on the front legs and the same number of legs (4 pairs of legs plus the two pincers). They spend their lives hidden, some species under stones (Prosperous Bay Plain has two species that occur nowhere else) others in damp leaf litter and some under debris on the beach.

The very biggest one in the whole world is but 15mm long - and lives, not on Ascension, but the tiny (300m across) Boatswainbird Islet off its NE coast - and nowhere else in the world, where it hunts at night for other small creatures feeding on the guano there. It’s Latin name is garypus titanius to celebrate its titanic size!

St Helena’s false scorpions are, in comparison, of very modest size indeed, the biggest reaching just 4mm long. In common with so many of St Helena’s animals without backbones, most - 5 out of the total of 8 species - occur nowhere else in the world. Ascension also has 5 species - different ones from those on St Helena - and they again all occur nowhere else in the world, making St Helena and Ascension the most diverse places in the world for these little creatures in relation to the size of the islands. The three remaining species on St Helena are European species which have been transported all over the world.

Cute? They walk backwards just as easily (and somewhat more rapidly) than forwards, they hold hands (well, pincers) when they are courting, they hitch rides on flies, spiders, wasps and birds when they want to get anywhere, and they build a little silk ‘igloo’ tent in which to lay eggs and then look after their young - so - yes - very cute! Their hitch-hiking behaviour, clinging tenaciously with their pincers to insects’ legs or birds’ feathers, is probably how the ancestors of our species first got to the two islands. As many as 15 false scorpions clinging onboard a fairly small wasp has been seen -which as a result was so emburdened that it couldn’t take off…

Laugh at funny Problem Animals humour - LOL

Footnotes:
{1} It almost certainly has nothing to do with St Patrick of Ireland.{2} You have to remember to tip out your shoes before you put them on. This quickly becomes a habit (just like waving while driving) and will stay with you when you return home, much to the amusement of your friends and relatives.{3} Anthony Nelson, 2000, ISBN 0 904614 61 1.{4} Why do they wait until you’re almost asleep then try to crawl into your ear?{5} Reproduced for educational non-commercial use only; all copyrights are acknowledged.

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