Center for Biological Diversity

Protecting endangered species and wild places through
science, policy, education, and environmental law.

For Immediate Release: May 9, 2006

Brent Plater, Center for Biological Diversity, 415-572-6989
Marjorie Ziegler, Conservation Council for Hawai‘i, 808-593-0255

Fish and Wildlife Service Protects Hawaii’s Endemic Picture-Wings
Imperiled Invertebrates Taught Us About Evolution, May Have Medicinal Value

San Francisco, Calif. - The U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) announced today that 12 species of Hawaii’s endemic picture-wings — small insects in the Drosophilidae family known as the “birds of paradise” of the insect world — will receive protection under the federal Endangered Species Act, the nation’s safety net for imperiled wildlife and plants.

Today’s announcement, five years overdue, ensures that land managers have the most effective tools available to combat the destruction of the picture-wings’ habitats and reduce impacts from non-native species.

“This decision is a giant leap toward recovery for these incredible creatures, but this is only the beginning,” said Brent Plater of the Center for Biological Diversity. “Today FWS just stated the obvious: Hawaii’s endemic species are in danger of extinction. Now we need the agency to match its words with deeds and begin a comprehensive recovery strategy for the picture-wings.”

Hawaiian picture-wings are perhaps the most extraordinary group of Hawaiian insects known to science, and represent one of the most remarkable cases of specific adaptation to local conditions that has been found in any group of animals on Earth. The study of Hawaiian picture-wings has contributed greatly to humanity’s understanding of biology and evolution. Additionally, scientists recently determined that Hawaiian picture-wings and their associated ecological communities have traits that are enormously important in humanity’s search to cure diseases such as West-Nile virus, AIDS and even cancer.

“Hawai‘i is the endangered species capital of the nation,” said Marjorie Ziegler, Executive Director of the Conservation Council for Hawai‘i. “Our picture-wings are threatened by degradation of their habitat by feral animals and invasive plants, loss of host plants, predation by introduced yellow jackets and ants, cattle grazing, and fire. We are encouraged that these unique Hawaiian insects and their habitat will receive the protection they require under the federal Endangered Species Act.”

Today’s finding recognizes that habitat destruction and the loss of the picture-wings’ host plants are the primary cause of the species’ imperiled status. The Endangered Species Act’s protections will be particularly important to address these threats, because the Act not only protects the species themselves, but also the habitats upon which they depend for survival.

The Endangered Species Act has been remarkably successful. Humpback whales, bald eagles, brown pelicans, green and Kemp’s ridley sea turtles, piping plovers, roseate terns, and red-bellied turtles are just a few of the species that are recovering quite nicely.

“Hawaii’s fantastic picture-wings were at the brink of extinction before scientists could even investigate their medicinal values, and it is our shared responsibility to ensure that these species survive,” said Plater, “We owe it to future generations to protect these exceptionally important creatures, and today’s decision recognizes that one of the most effective ways to do that is to protect the places the picture-wings call home under the Endangered Species Act.”

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