Scientists Uncover Secrets Of Tresco’s Stick Insects

Associate Professors Mary Morgan-Richards and Steve Trewick with a stick insect.

Associate Professors Mary Morgan-Richards and Steve Trewick with a stick insect.

Scientists have worked out that some of the stick insects found living outdoors on Tresco originally came from New Zealand. And it’s creating interest down under because the Scilly insects are all female and they’ve learned to live without males.

A team from Massey University on New Zealand’s North Island recently visited the Abbey Gardens and used DNA sampling to identify two types of our insects.

Associate Professors Mary Morgan-Richards and Steve Trewick are leading the research.

Steve said he believes the insects’ eggs probably came in by accident in the soil of plants imported from New Zealand.

All the Tresco stick insects are female and unusually, they don’t need males to reproduce. And that’s generated some media attention in New Zealand.

Steve says some stick insects can switch to reproducing through females alone and it’s likely to be why they managed to spread – you only need a single female to hatch, to repopulate an area.

The academics have repatriated the Scilly stick insects’ eggs under a special licence and they’ve hatched successfully in their labs.

They now want to see how the Scilly girls, who have lived without males for generations, react to Kiwi male stick insects.

Steve says they are now interested to see whether the way in which plants were transported from New Zealand to Tresco improved their chance of survival.

There’s a theory that specimens that came with soil taken from their native home, which contains various bacteria and fungi, might have done better than those grown from seeds.

The scientists are collaborating with artists from Wellington on an associated project highlighting the historic and social connections forged during colonial migration.

And the Scilly stick insects are featured in their Penguin-published book, ‘New Zealand Wildlife,’ which you can buy online.



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