A big insect saved from extinction

August 27, 2012 • 11:36 am

In March I did a post about the Lord Howe Island stick insect Dryococelis australis, the heaviest flightless insect in the world (0.9 oz or 25 gm). Go have a look at the pictures and read the story.  Anyhow, it was nearly extinct, but a few were recovered by climbers on a spire of rock (“Ball’s Pyramid”) offshore of Lord Howe (these islands are in the Tasman Sea between Australia and New Zealand). The insects are now being bred in captivity for reintroduction in the wild.

Over at Scientific American, Bora Zivkovic has posted a really lovely video of one of these stick insects hatching in the Melbourne Zoo, where they’re being brought back from extinction. (Becky Crew, also at Sci Am, give a fuller story).


21 thoughts on “A big insect saved from extinction

    1. According to the Wikipedia article, the Melbourne zoo has, as of April, bred over 9000 individuals. That is quite a kickup from the 24 or so that were in the wild by the time the operation began…it does seem the species will have a fighting chance, which is comforting (never thought I would use that term in connection with an insect).

      1. That begs (again) the old question of “how small a population can you get away with for long-term security from extinction.
        which itself is not a well defined question : how long is “long-term”? what is “security” (7 billion humans could become 1 with a modicum of biotechnology, or nuclear technology)? is 9000 individuals with 3 different collections of alleles any much better than 6 individuals with the same 3 different collections of alleles? And just how long is that pyramid of rock going to survive anyway – 1,000 years? 10,000? not 100,000 surely?

  1. Jesus Christ, but that gives me the heebie-jeebies…I know, hardly a scientific response, and not one I’d make considered (especially policy) decisions on…but, damn, that pulls a hell of a lot of triggers….


    1. You’re not alone…I’m a pretty big guy, but I am frozen stiff by a lot of insects, especially arachnids. Guess it takes a lot of goodwill and guts to save the little things.

    2. I don’t mind the insect. It’s beautiful. But my very slight claustrophobia just kicked in watching this. How. did. that. come. out. of. there??? And the time it took the legs to be freed! Sheer panic-inducing.

  2. “the heaviest flightless insect in the world (0.9 oz or 25 gm)”

    What about giant weta? If wikipedia is to be believed, they’re been recorded up to 72 grams… and they are also flightless insects…

    1. I thought of the giant weta, as they’ve gotten up to 72 grams, but I wasn’t sure they were flightless. They do have wings, but they’re such heavy beasts I don’t think they could fly.

      1. So far as I can tell, they don’t even have wings. If they do, they must be tiny little vestigial things that are not readily visible.

  3. The “pop-off” tops on those cocoons (for lack of a better word) are mind-boggling. Are they natural, or fabricated by humans?

    If they’re natural, then thank-you for my daily dose of evolutionary flabbergast.

Leave a Reply