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October 11, 2013
Mauna Kea's Wekiu Bug Success Story

UH and OMKM Collaborative Efforts Pay Off 

Throughout its decade of management, the Office of Mauna Kea Management has worked collaboratively with State and Federal agencies to ensure proper management of the Wēkiu bug. In addition, OMKM funded studies to learn more about the bug which has resulted in developing better methods for protecting this unique species. Through active involvement with many agencies (UH Manoa, UH Hilo, Bishop Museum, DLNR, USFWS), a cohesive group of specialists have guided methods of surveys and data use that directly addresses data gaps called for in the Board of Land and Natural Resources approved Comprehensive Management Plan, and Natural Resources Management and Public Access plans which were approved in 2009 and 2010, respectfully.


In the Fall of 2011, the US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) removed the bug as a candidate listing for Federal protection under the Endangered Species Act, "The removal of the Wēkiu bug is based on the successful management of the summit of Mauna Kea on the island of Hawaiʻi. Survey work resulted in more than doubling the number of sites where the species is found. The protection and monitoring of the Wēkiu bug provided through the management plans for Mauna Kea has precluded the need to list this species."

Jesse Eiben and Jaco Le Roux atop Mauna Kea

This is a recovery success story we can all celebrate.

Jesse Eiben is considered the foremost expert on the Wēkiu bug, having studied the bug's life history and population genetics since 2005. His specific interest is in the evolution of the Wēkiu bug, its adaptation to such an extreme environment as is found on Mauna Kea, and how this type of basic scientific information can be applied to conservation actions.


OMKM provided funding to Dr. Daniel Rubinoff in the University of Hawaii's Plant and Environmental Protection Sciences department, and Eiben was selected as a University of Hawaiʻi Manoa graduate student to study the Wēkiu bug's life cycle and habitat requirements. After six years of study, the research lead to a better understanding of the bug's habitat requirements, including a physiological and population growth model showing a reason for the bug's continual persistence on cinder cones tied to overlapping generations growing in the thermally buffered loose cinder that comprises cinder cones.


Extensive information on the Wēkiu bug is available through Eiben's research paper in the Journal of Insect Conservation, entitled, Life history and captive rearing of the Wēkiu bug (Nysius wekiuicola, Lygaeidae), an alpine carnivore endemic to the Mauna (Eiben and Rubinoff, 2010), his PhD dissertation from 2012, and an upcoming publication currently in review in Conservation Biology. Also, there is a general overview of his research available online from the Hawaii Conservation Conference in 2012 (


About the Wēkiu Bug

The Wēkiu (Hawaiian for "top" or "summit") bug (Nysius wekiuicola) is the best studied invertebrate on the summit of Mauna Kea. It was first recognized as a new species in 1979 and described in 1983 by Ashlock and Gagne. Wēkiu bug adults are the size of a grain of rice and reside where cinders are found on the summit. They use their straw-like beaks to draw nourishment from dead and dying insects in the aeolian drift.




The Office of Mauna Kea Management is charged with day-to-day management of the Mauna Kea Science Reserve as prescribed in the Master Plan. The adoption of the Mauna Kea Science Reserve Master Plan by the University of Hawaii Board of Regents in June 2000 marked a critical milestone in the management of Mauna Kea.


Meetings and public hearings spanning a period of nearly two years went into the formulation of the Master Plan, which established management guidelines for the next 20 years. The Master Plan reflected the community's deeply rooted concerns over the use of Mauna Kea, including respect for Hawaiian cultural beliefs, protection of environmentally sensitive habitat, recreational use of the mountain, and astronomy research.  

It places the focus of responsibility with the University of Hawaii at Hilo (UHH). The UH-Hilo Chancellor established the Office of Mauna Kea Management and the Board of Regents established the Mauna Kea Management Board in the fall of 2000. The Mauna Kea Management Board in turn formed Kahu Ku Mauna, a council comprised of Hawaiian cultural resource persons to serve as advisors.

mauna kea  

OMKM Mission

To achieve harmony, balance and trust in the sustainable management and stewardship of Mauna Kea Science Reserve through community involvement and programs that protect, preserve and enhance the natural, cultural and recreational resources of Mauna Kea while providing a world-class center dedicated to education, research and astronomy.