I’m quite familiar with Lord Howe Island, for I’ve published on its bird fauna (garnered from the literature; I haven’t been lucky enough to visit there), and wrote a “news and views” on its flora for Current Biology, a piece that I described on this website (see the link for the geography and location of the island). It turns out that Lord Howe was once home to a bizarre variety of stick insect, the species Dryococelis australis, the heaviest flightless insect in the world. Here it is:
This beast, called “the Lord Howe stick insect,” can be nearly six inches long and weigh up to 25 grams—about 0.9 ounces. It’s in the order Phasmatodea (“phasmids”), which includes stick insects, walking sticks, and all manner of bizarre species (see the Wikipedia page for some cool phasmid photos).
At any rate, Robert Krulwich reported yesterday at KrulwichWonders, his website at National Public Radio, about the near-extinction and rehabilitation of this insect. It was once common on the isolated Lord Howe island, but was completely wiped out within two years when a British ship ran aground in 1918 and accidentally released rats, who made a handy meal of these large, tasty, and defenseless insects (their other name is “tree lobsters”).
For 83 years the species was thought to be extinct, until in 2001 some hardy climbers scaled a nearby spire of rock, the famous “Ball’s pyramid,” a spire of naked rock about 12 miles SE of Lord Howe. It, like Lord Howe itself, is of volcanic origin:
The climbers spotted insect droppings and went back at night, finding at least one living insect. The obvious thing to do was breed them in captivity.
At any rate, go read Krulwich’s description of how a few breeding pairs of insects (the species was down to an estimated 30 individuals) were taken to Australia for breeding, and how they’re now ready for re-release on Lord Howe. First, though, the rats have to be extirpated. And. . . the residents of the island have to want the insects back; curiously, a few are balking.
Be sure to see the awesome Vimeo video (also on Krulwisch’s page) of one of these insects hatching. Don’t miss this one! It’s from the Melbourne Zoo, where the phasmids are being reared, and it’s the first video of this species actually hatching (the eggs incubate for six months).
h/t: Rev. El Mundo