The loss of a massive creepy-crawlie may not cause many to mourn, but the world has truly lost one of its great giants. The St. Helena giant earwig (Labidura herculeana), endemic to the isolated island of Saint Helena in the south Atlantic Ocean, has now been declared officially extinct, reports mongabay.com.
The earwig was the world's largest, capable of growing longer than 3 inches in length. The remarkable insect was first described in 1798 by the Danish scientist Johan Christian Fabricius. It was last seen alive in 1967, but body parts from dead individuals have been found on occasion until as recently as this year (picture of assembled body parts here). Unfortunately, none of these body parts were believed to belong to any animals alive within the decade.
"The species is large, charismatic and of iconic status on the island; while there is still a slim possibility that it may still persist in some remote location, the balance of evidence points towards the species being extinct," read the updated listing of the earwig.
Earwigs are particularly recognizable for their formidable pincers, which they use to capture prey and defend themselves. The giants of St. Helena certainly had some impressive pincers themselves, and look like they could do some real damage with a pinch. Despite their intimidating appearance, however, the colossus insects had a reputation for being doting mothers, which is a rare trait among non-social insects. Not only were they known to regularly clean their eggs and help hatchlings hatch, giant earwig mothers also reared and fed their offspring by regurgitating food. Nymphs of the species slept beneath their mothers' bodies for warmth and protection.
Earwigs are so-named because of the (false) folk belief that they seek out human ears to burrow into and lay their eggs in the brain. It's a good thing this isn't true; it would truly be a horrifying experience to have one of these giants burrowing into your ear!
It is believed that the insects were driven to extinction due to habitat loss and predation by invasive species — introduced rodents as well as centipedes.
St. Helena is one of the most remote islands in the world, and is perhaps most famous for being the place of exile for Napoleon, who died there in 1821 after several years of imprisonment on the island. Today it is part of the British Overseas Territory.
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