From egg-laying mammals to laughing Kookaburra, Australia is known for its weird yet wonderful creatures. More than 80% of the flora and fauna are unique to the continent and now scientists have found a critter with a unique diet on a tiny island near Australia. Researchers noticed that the Phillip Island centipede (Cormocephalus coynei) of the Phillip Island can eat over 3,700 seabird chicks each year. The findings were recently published in The American Naturalist.
Phillip Island is a small uninhabited island located about six km south of Norfolk Island in the South Pacific. The island is home to 13 seabird species and the most abundant is the black-winged petrel (Pterodroma nigripennis).
The Phillip Island centipedes that can grow about 20-30 cm in length, were found to feast on the nestlings of the black-winged petrel. The centipedes immobilise the prey by injecting venom via pincer-like appendages.
The team decoded the dietary preferences of the centipede and found that it also consisted of geckos, skinks, crickets and marine fishes scavenged from regurgitated seabird meals.
Lead author Luke R. Halpin from the School of Biological Sciences, Monash University, Australia explains in an email to indianexpress.com: “Centipedes have not previously been reported to prey on seabird chicks. This is quite a novel result.” He adds that islands are great laboratories for food web studies because of their isolation and this study demonstrated how arthropods can play a major role in the food web structure and influence nutrient flow.
But the black-winged petrels were found to be resilient to this predation. The observations revealed that the centipedes targeted only young and small nestlings “Our study found that after reaching a certain age chicks tended not to be preyed on by centipedes. So there is some level of predation, but at the population level, the black-winged petrel is resilient, and appears to be growing. Basically, many more petrel chicks survive to adulthood than chicks that are preyed on,” explains Halpin.
This species of centipede is endemic to Phillip Island and not much is known about their population size. “I would dearly love to continue working on this species to understand it more. I would like to study the effect of this centipede’s feeding habits on the recovery of the ecosystem on this island,” he adds.