Top 5 Science Fails – 5: David Lyall, Tibbles and the Stephens Island Wren

Science has done a lot for us as a society, without it we would be still be in the middle ages, I would not be sat here able to write this and could possibly be considered to be a wise old man approaching the end of his life! However, despite the advances, there have been a few faux pas and amusing accidents along the way and I am gong to write a top 5 and post up one each day. I should first of all say that I am only considering science that was originally intended to be beneficial and failed and am not intending to demean or trivialise any of the serious mistakes science has made ( e.g. biological warfare, the nuclear bomb etc.).  So here we go……

5: David Lyall, Tibbles and the Stephens Island Wren

Now this story is disputed, some claim it to be hearsay and legend, whilst others stick to it faithfully. However, evidence seems to indicate that it is true to a certain extent. So I am going to tell the story as, if it is true, it definately deserves a place on this list.

In 1894 a light house was constructed on Stephens Island (part of New Zealand). The story goes that a cat named ‘Tibbles’ travelled to the Island along with the construction crew and David Lyall who was to be the lighthouse keeper and was also a keen biologist.

After some time on the Island Lyall noticed that Tibbles was bringing back small birds to the light house. He sent off a few samples to a friend in London to find out what the bird was as he did not recognise it. It was discovered to be a new species, and the only flightless perching bird in the world. They began to prepare for publication in a popular journal and Lyall sent off more of Tibbles’ hunt to eminent scientists.

However, one day there were no more birds being deposited at the lighthouse. Tibbles had wiped out the entire species. It is the only recorded case in history of a single organism causing the extinction of a whole species.

Of the 15 recorded specimens of the bird, 3 currently reside in the Natural History Museum in London, whilst the whereabouts of 5 are currently unknown.

An artists impression of the Stephens Island Wren

Tomorrow I will post up number 4……


QI Series 2 Episode 2

4 thoughts on “Top 5 Science Fails – 5: David Lyall, Tibbles and the Stephens Island Wren

  1. Pingback: Top 5 Science Fails – 4: Donald R. Currey, the US Forestry Service and the Prometheus Tree « B Good Science Blog

  2. Pingback: Top 5 Science Fails: 3 – West, Thomas, Pierce and Tusko the Elephant « B Good Science Blog

  3. Pingback: Top 5 Science Fail: Number 1 – Thomas Midgely Jr and Planet Earth « B Good Science Blog

  4. Pingback: Top 5 Science Fail: Number 1 – Thomas Midgely Jr and Planet Earth |

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