Category Archives: centipedes

The Race: Another New Species and Contributions from our Citizen Scientists

Colleagues in London, Drs. Simaikis and Edgecombe of the Natural History Museum, have just published a paper on centipedes that includes some very old specimens from São Tomé and Príncipe collected as early as the 1930’s.  Among the material, they discovered a new. presumably endemic species.

both Otostigmus

Meet Otostigmus coltellus (left), from Zootaxa 3734 (2013). For scientific purposes, only the parts of the animal that are important for identification are published; the photo on the right  (RCD phot – GG II) may or may not be an Otostigmus but it would look something like this.  I am told they are difficult to identify unless you look at underparts, but as all islanders know, these centopéias can deliver a painful, sometimes dangerous bite.  So far, the new O. coltellus is known only from Ilheu Rolas and Zampalma on São Tomé; it and O. productus are considered unique to the islands, while the two large reddish species of Scolopendra (see below) found on both islands are probably introduced. This means that the centipedes of São Tomé and Príncipe are 50% unique (endemic).

Scolopendra dL GGI

Scolopendra subspinipes feeding on slug (D. Lin phot.  GG I

More and more islanders on São Tomé and Príncipe are posting images of strange island creatures on the internet. For instance, in my last blog I was able to include photos taken by the staff of Praia Inhame of the largest reptile in the world, the leatherback sea turtle.

Manta Mobula  Praia San Paulo Sao Tome nr airport 1 of 6 poss.spp

Mobula, a large manta ray on Praia San Paolo, near airport, Sao Tome.  unknown phot.

Another example is this huge manta ray which was caught off Praia San Paolo near the airport last year.  This could be one of six different manta species of the genus Mobula that occur in this part of the Atlantic.  In these cases, we do not know who took the pictures, but we can still respond with identifications.

Still others are sending us pictures of animals and plants directly for identification; we call these people “citizen scientists,” and we hope our continuing expeditions and education programs are having something to do with this.

Estrela Matilde R and D

Estrela Matilde lives on Príncipe Island and works as Supervisor for HBD Agricultural Operations.  Recently a fisherman brought her the strange creature figured below:

red sliper lobster

 Scyllarides herklotsii  E. Matilde phot

I took the photo to some of my colleagues at the Academy who identified it as a red slipper lobster, and we were able to send Estrela the information below.

red slip lbstr page

1991 FAO species catalog. Vol. 13

We have received some very interesting photos From São Tomé Island, over the past few years but most recently from Ponta Figo.

Tiziano Pisoni and Mariangela Reina

Tiziano Pisoni and Mariangela Reina are the proprietors of Mucumbli Ponta Figo, a restaurant/guest resort in the northwest of the big  island. Tiziano is evidently very fond of African civets (Civetticus civetta) and has had several as pets. One that now lives in the garden is 14 years old, but he has a new pup as well.

14yr old civet

Tiziano’s 14 year old Civet

baby civet

Tiziano’s latest pet.

African civets are widespread on the African mainland (I have seen many). They are the largest members of the mongoose family, Viverridae, but are not native to the islands.  It is said they were introduced to control rodents about 100 years ago. They are largely nocturnal and eat virtually anything.

But the most intriguing photos the Mucumbli people sent me were of some mushrooms they found a month or so ago.

Readers will recall that before we began our expeditions, fewer than 15 species were known from São Tomé, and Príncipe had never been sampled.  We now have 225 species;, over 30% are apparently new to science.  I immediately sent the Mucumbli shots to Dr. Dennis Desjardin, an outstanding  mycologist and veteran of two Gulf of Guinea expeditions.

Mucumbuli mushrooms

Ponta Figo boletes- Mucumbli phot

Mucumbli botetes

Ponta Figo boletes-Mucumbli phot

Dennis immediately identified the mushrooms as boletes, a rather general term largely referring to their shape.  He could not identify them without actually having them in hand but did say that we have never collected this species, and they may well be the first ectomycorrhizal fungus for São Tomé!  This term refers to the symbiotic association of the mycelium of a fungus with the roots of certain plants, such as conifers, beeches, or orchids; this relationship is found among a number of mushroom groups, and frequently the association is with particular species of plants or trees. We had already discovered two genera of ectomycorrhizal fungi on Principe (see below) but so far none confirmed from the big island.


Ramaria sp. from Principe Desjardin phot – GG III

Amanita Principe

Principe Amanita sp. Desjardin phot GG III

Clearly, we need to get some samples of the Ponta Figo mushrooms.

Back on Principe, Marnie Saidi of Santo Antonio is our champion citizen scientist so far.

Marnie Saidi

Marnie and her partner Hassan own and operate a construction business in Santo Antonio, Principe.  She has participated in a number of our biodiversity education projects in schools on the smaller island and has become quite the naturalist.
The garden behind her house is nothing special (see below) but the creatures that visit her every year are quite surprising.

Marnies backyard

Saidi phot, 2013

Last year, Marnie caught a number of large beetles on her property and actually put them in the freezer for me to await our return last April. They are still being identified, but the photo below is a long-horned beetle, of the Family Cerambycidae. Note Marnie’s green fingernails, offered as scale.


Principe long-horned beetle. Saidi phot, 2012

Below is an image from the internet to show what a long-horned beetle looks like when it is not in a jar-this is a much smaller individual.

Alexandr Novas

Alexandr Novas phot. from internet

Marnie’s catches of long-horned beetles are particularly notable as so far as we know, 40% of the species of this group are found nowhere else but São Tomé and Príncipe.  Below is another of Marnie’s beetles, which we now have here at the Academy.  It has been tentatively identified by our entomologists as a dynastine scarab.

dynastine scarab

Principe dynastine scarab- Saidi phot 2012

Since we returned, Marnie has sent us a number of intriguing images of her strange visitors. The next email was the photo below, actually I think it is two different images of the same spider.


Giant crab spider, Heteropoda venatoria. Saidi phot. 2013

Dr. Charles Griswold, one of my colleagues here at the Academy identified this as a giant crab spider, Heteropoda venatoria; these are widespread on the mainland and not unsuspected to be present on Príncipe.  They are frequently welcomed into homes, as they eat large numbers of insect pests. Marnie then sent a photo of a beautiful green moth.

Geometrid Thalassa quadraria

Green moth, Thalassa quadraria (Geometridae) Saidi phot 2013

This was kindly identified by my friend Dr. Luis F. Mendes of the Institute for Tropical Science Research in Lisbon.  Although, he is a butterfly specialist who has just published a paper on the butterflies of the islands, he is sure that this green moth is a new record for Principe!

During the past few weeks, Marnie has been visited by two of the three unique frog species on the small island.

both leptos

Male Leptopelis palmatus, the Principe Giant Tree Frog.  Saidi phot. 2013

This is a male of the Principe giant treefrog, Leptopelis palmatus.  Photos of this species have appeared in this blog many times. The males can be many different colors, but the females are usually dull green; the eyes of both species are always bright red. According to the tenets of biogeography, there should be no frogs at all on the islands, as there has never been a connection with the mainland!  What is spectacular about this particular species is that the females are the largest of all African tree frogs (up to 110 mm)! It is the only island amphibian species whose tadpoles (aquatic larvae) we have never found and described.

Marnie hyperolius

Oceanic tree frog,  Hyperolius molleri. Saidi phot. 2013

Marnie was most recently visited by an Oceanic tree frog, Hyperolius molleri. Until very recently, we thought this species was the only one that occurs on both São Tomé and Príncipe, but very recent evidence hints that the two populations may be different. We are working on it.

As you can see, observations by islanders, Citizen Scientists, are of great value to us and the world of science.  We are busy identifying  specimens and planning our next expeditions; perhaps a short educational one in the Spring, and another full-fledged one in early 2015.

Here’s the parting shot:


Regional President Hon. Jose Cassandra hoists aloft the certificate designating Principe Island a UNESCO World Biosphere Reserve!


We are most grateful to Arlindo de Ceita Carvalho, Director General, Victor Bomfim, and Salvador Sousa Pontes of the Ministry of Environment, Republic of São Tomé and Príncipe for their continuing authorization to collect and export specimens for study, and to Ned Seligman, Roberta dos Santos and Quintino Quade of STePUP of Sao Tome, our “home away from home”. We gratefully acknowledge the support of the G. Lindsay Field Research Fund, Hagey Research Venture Fund of the California Academy of Sciences for largely funding our initial two expeditions (GG I, II). The Société de Conservation et Développement (SCD) and Africa’s Eden provided logistics, ground transportation and lodging (GG III-V), and special thanks for the generosity of private individuals who made the GG III-V expeditions possible: George G. Breed, Gerry F. Ohrstrom, Timothy M. Muller, Mrs. W. H. V. Brooke, Mr. and Mrs. Michael Murakami, Hon. Richard C. Livermore, Prof. & Mrs. Evan C. Evans III, Mr. and Mrs. Robert M. Taylor, Velma and Michael Schnoll, and Sheila Farr Nielsen; GG VI supporters include Bom Bom Island and the Omali Lodge for logistics and lodging, The Herbst Foundation, The “Blackhawk Gang,” the Docent Council of the California Academy of Sciences in honor of Kathleen Lilienthal, Bernard S. Schulte, Corinne W. Abel, Prof. & Mrs. Evan C. Evans III, Mr. and Mrs. John Sears, John S. Livermore and Elton Welke. GG VII was funded by a very generous grant from The William K. Bowes Jr. Foundation, and substantial donations from Mrs. W.H.V.“D.A.” Brooke, Thomas B. Livermore, Rod C. M. Hall, Timothy M. Muller, Prof. and Mrs. Evan C. Evans, Mr. and Mrs. John L. Sullivan Jr., Clarence G. Donahue, Mr. and Mrs. John Sears, and a heartening number of “Coolies”, “Blackhawk Gang” returnees and members of the Academy Docent Council. Once again we are deeply grateful for the continued support of the Omali Lodge (São Tomé) and Bom Bom Island (Príncipe) for both logistics and lodging and especially for sponsoring part our education efforts for GG VII. Substantial support has already come in for our next expeditions from donors in memory of the late Michael Alan Schnoll, beloved husband of our island biodiversity education Project Manager, Velma.

Our expeditions can be supported by tax-deductable donations to “California Academy of Sciences Gulf of Guinea Fund”

The Race: GG IV – Return to Paradise

Having just returned from Ethiopia, I am now “gearing up” for GG IV.  If all goes well, we will be returning to the islands on the 19th of February for a month, thanks especially to continuing logistical support from our partner, Africa’s Eden (SCD), and the generosity of friends (see Partners below).

GG IV will be one of the smaller expeditions (four of us), due in part to financial constraints, but also because I have a particular, non-exploration focus in mind.  But first the GG IV players:

Dr. Tom Daniel, is returning with us; as I mentioned in the last blog, he has just published a major paper on the island shrimp plants (his specialty) and along with more botanical exploring will be doing some technical pollination studies this time.

Dr. Tom Daniel on Sao Tome. RCD phot, GG III

Among our plans is a survey of the top of Pico do São Tomé which is at about 2000 m.  None our previous expedition members has ever sampled the Pico so everything will be of interest, but our one of our special goals is to collect examples of Afrocarpus mannii, which is endemic to this mountain.

Afrocarpus mannii  WWW. photo

This tree is a member of the yellow wood family (Podocarpaceae), and it is thought that all of its nearest relatives are found thousands of kilometers away in the East African highlands.

Distribution of Afrocarpus relatives. RCD construct.

This strange distribution pattern is showing up rather frequently in the various sorts of organisms we study (for instance, my frogs and reptiles) so we are always interested in testing these relationships using DNA technology; i.e., if these species are really closest relatives, what are they doing thousands of kilometers apart?

Dr. Shevock in Yunnan, China. Phot. D. Long – 2007

This is Dr. Jim Shevock, who recently joined the Academy faculty.  Jim is one of the world’s foremost authorities on mosses. His latest book came out only a few weeks ago.

California Mosses. 2009. Micro-optics, New Zealand

Jim will be conducting the first comprehensive moss survey of São Tomé and Príncipe.

Dr. Shevock drying moss specimens.  Phot. A. Colwell, 2009

Recall that when our expeditions began back in 2001, there were only four species of mushrooms known from the islands; as a result of GG II and III, Drs. Desjardin and Perry have identified some 225 species, including new ones.  Phallus drewesii, an endemic to São Tomé, was just described in August.  I have a strong suspicion that Jim Shevock is going to come up with similar surprises.

The other critter work will include hooking up with Jose Lima to obtain more shrew specimens and to find and identify the mysterious Charroco, the fish we missed on earlier expeditions and which is thus absent from the islands  list.  Jose is doing the research for his PhD with the University of Lancaster. Jose “rediscovered” the supposedly rare, possibly endemic São Tomé shrew, Crocidura thomensis.  It is certainly not rare; as so often is the case, one just has to know where to look. Ricardo does.  We have permission to collect a few and test their tissues to see if they are in fact true endemics, or whether they were brought to the islands via human activity.

“Cobra bobo” endemic to São Tomé.  Phot. J. Juste

You will recognize this as the flamboyant caecilian, Schistometopum thomense or “cobra bobo,” known only from São Tomé.  The photo was taken many years ago by my friend and colleague, Dr. Javier Juste of the Doñana Institute in Seville in Spain. Javier thinks he may actually have taken this photo on São Tomé, but he is sure that he has seen caecilians on Príncipe Id!  This would be most exciting, and of course we will be looking for it.

And now that we have found a myriapod (millipede) expert, Dr. Rowland Shelley of the North Carolina State Museum (see November post), we will be collecting these critters as well, and I have no doubt that this group will turn out to be as poorly known as the others…. More surprises in store.

A myriapod (millipede). www phot.

Now for the special focus.  I have long thought that the citizens of the Republic of São Tomé and Príncipe need to be aware how absolutely unique and special their islands really are.  My groups of scientists and I can continue to explore and conduct research and make neat scientific discoveries.  We can continue to publish scientific papers, and we even add Portuguese abstracts.  But while this is great for “Science”, the majority of Tomeans will never see these papers. This popular blog has been an attempt to “spread the word”, but the vast majority of the people there do not read English, and most certainly do not have computers.  What good does all of our work and discoveries do if the citizens who live there are remain unaware of how special their islands are?  For example, Martim Melo, an outstanding ornithologist and expert on the birds fauna of the islands has just established the fact that the islands of São Tomé and Príncipe, together, have the highest concentration of endemic bird species in the world!  I doubt if anyone on the islands knows this fact, and think of what such a statement might mean to tourism!  The people should know and be proud of the unique nature of their nation, especially because they will have hard decisions to make in the future, if and when the oil revenues come… that is why this blog is called the Island Biodiversity Race (go back to the first two postings, if you need to) – there is a real urgency to what we are doing.

So above and beyond our usual critter searches, I am going to spend a significant part of our time during GG IV meeting with various people who are involved in appropriate government ministries, education, tourism and the environment,  in order to come up with ideas for a multi-level educational program.  We hope to learn what the citizens want and need in this regard.  This is where the fourth member of GG IV comes in: Mrs. Roberta Ayres.

Roberta Ayres (left) in the Naturalist Center, CAS.  RCD phot. 2010

Roberta is Manager and Senior Educator of the Naturalist Center, which is a major part of the Koret-Taub Education Center of the Academy.  Roberta has a Master’s degree in science education and, having been born in Brazil, speaks fluent Portuguese.  Together, Roberta and I hope to learn how we can raise biodiversity awareness on the islands through our meetings and interviews with its citizens.

The California Academy of Sciences Naturalist Center. RCD phot. 2010

Barring technical or other problems, I plan to keep blogging from the islands.

The parting shot:

“Island Tranquility”- Laguna Azul, on Sao Tome. D. Lin phot. GGII


We gratefully acknowledge the support of the G. Lindsay Field Research Fund, Hagey Research Venture Fund of the California Academy of Sciences, the Société de Conservation et Développement (SCD) and Africa’s Eden for logistics, ground transportation and lodging, STePUP of Sao Tome, Arlindo de Ceita Carvalho, Director General, and Victor Bomfim, Salvador Sousa Pontes and Danilo Barbero of the Ministry of Environment, Republic of São Tomé and Príncipe for permission to export specimens for study, the continued support of Bastien Loloumb of Monte Pico and Faustino Oliviera, Director of the botanical garden at Bom Sucesso. Special thanks for the generosity of private individuals, George G. Breed, Gerry F. Ohrstrom, Timothy M. Muller, Mrs. W. H. V. Brooke, Mr. and Mrs. Michael Murakami, Hon. Richard C. Livermore, Prof. & Mrs. Evan C. Evans III and Mr. and Mrs. Robert M. Taylor for helping make these expeditions possible.

The Race: Critter and People Updates

It has been a busy couple of months, hence no posts on THE RACE.  In my last one, I hope I made it clear that scientists have senses of humor (my favorite ones do, anyway).  Here’s another fact you might not know; regardless of what he or she studies, there is probably not a single field biologist anywhere who does not have a secret dislike or even fear of one sort of critter or another.  With me, it has always been centipedes– even when I was a child.  I can’t bear the things!  And, naturally, there are some real monsters common on São Tomé.  The creatures in the shots below are about 10 inches long, sometimes they get larger!

Scolopendra subspinipes. D. Lin phot. GG II

S. subspinipes – Weckerphoto, GG III

These arthropods are more properly known as scolopendras, and they are voracious predators; the upper one is devouring a slug.  The two above are Scolopendra subspinipes, are native to Southeast Asia and thought to have been brought to the islands accidentally.  The Academy was just visited by Dr. Rowland Shelley, a specialist on millipedes from the North Carolina State Museum, who had a look at some of our critters.  He and his colleague, Dr. John Lewis of the UK identified these but, more exciting, the one pictured below.

Otostigmus productus DLin phot- GG II

This is a different species that was originally described from São Tomé over 120 years ago.  It is thought to also occur in West Africa; if this is the case, O. productus  is not an endemic species but it is probably naturally occurring.

Photo shoot on Sao Tome. Dong Lin, Fabio Penny and Ricka Stoelting -RCD GGI

Ricka Stoelting (above at right), my grad student and GG I participant, is putting the finishing touches on her manuscript on the fabulous São Tomé, “cobra bobo.” After submitting it for publication, she will pursue her PhD at the University of Wisconsin.

Schistometopum thomense – Weckerphoto, GG III

Ricka’s research has shown that this remarkable legless amphibian, Schistometopum thomense is indeed a true endemic species, having gotten to the island by natural means.  By studying the genetics of these bright yellow burrowers, she has learned that there are two different genetic groupings of the caecilian on the island and this is possibly related to volcanic activity within the last million years.

Principe Jita. Lamprophis sp. Weckerphoto GG III

Our snake project on “cobra jita” (Lamprophis – see earlier blogs) is ongoing; my intern, Lisette Arellano (below) has returned from the University of California, Santa Barbara and is working down in our molecular lab as I write.  Last summer we learned that although they are very similar in appearance, the snakes on São Tomé and Príncipe are genetically distinct from one another based on Lisette’s analysis of the cytochrome b geneWe think that analysis of an additional nuclear gene will be useful.

Lisette Arellano at the Academy.  RCD

The big issue lies with the status of jita’s relatives on the mainland.  While we are now reasonably sure that the two island populations are separate species, we do not know what their relationships are to the at least 12 species of Lamprophis distributed widely in Africa; it is possible that either or both of our island snakes could belong to one these mainland species. Unfortunately  the relationships (systematics) of this whole group in Africa are poorly understood.  Dr. Chris Kelly of Rhodes University who is working on the entire complex has kindly sent us a number of tissue samples of Lamprophis from some West African localities, and these are what Lisette is analyzing now.  In June, Lisette is off to the University of Colorado to pursue her PhD.  Hopefully, we will have figured out our island snakes by then.

Dana Carrison off Principe.  Pola-Perez phot.  GG III B

Dana Carrison is an MSc candidate at San Francisco State University and was part of marine phase of GG III (see Send In the Marines).  She is the graduate student of Dr. Bob Van Syoc, a participant of both GG II and III marine expeditions.  Dana is nearing completion of her research on the barnacles she and Bob study and has this to say:

“The Gulf of Guinea II and III expeditions have led to the discovery of two new species of symbiotic barnacle of the genus, Conopea, originally described from the Straits of Gibraltar by Ellis in 1758. I have been using molecular and morphological methods to describe these new species and compare them with their closest barnacle relatives. I have also been comparing species of gorgonian coral with species of barnacle to see if there’s any sort of settling preference. So far I think that one of the new species of barnacle is found only on a singe species of gorgonian and the other is not.”

I should mention that the gorgonians to which Dana refers are studied by Dr. Gary Williams, also a Gulf of Guinea veteran of two expeditions.  Here are Dana’s new species:

Conopea new species #1   phot. D. Carrison

Conopea new species #2  D. Carrison phot

More anon and before our return to the islands.

Here’s the parting shot:

Chaplin, Executive Director, BomBom Island, Principe. Weckerphoto GG III


We gratefully acknowledge the support of the G. Lindsay Field Research Fund, Hagey Research Venture Fund of the California Academy of Sciences, the Société de Conservation et Développement (SCD) for logistics, ground transportation and lodging, STePUP of Sao Tome, Arlindo de Ceita Carvalho, Director General, and Victor Bomfim, Salvador Sousa Pontes and Danilo Bardero of the Ministry of Environment, Republic of São Tomé and Príncipe for permission to export specimens for study, and the continued support of Bastien Loloumb of Monte Pico and Faustino Oliviera, Director of the botanical garden at Bom Sucesso. Special thanks for the generosity of private individuals, George G. Breed, Gerry F. Ohrstrom, Timothy M. Muller, Mrs. W. H. V. Brooke and Mr. and Mrs. Michael Murakami for helping make these expeditions possible.