The numbers are in and they are encouraging.
From nothing, the huge Lord Howe Island stick insect, Dryococelus australis, has risen back up to a bit more than nothing.
Lord Howe Island is a small island about 600 kilometers off the East coast of Australia in the Tasman Sea. The roughly 5.6 square mile island was home to Dryococelus australis, often referred to as a tree lobster due to its size – up to 15 cm and weighing in at 25 grams.
The Lord Howe Island stick insect was presumed extinct by 1960. However, the insect had already been absent for quite some time by then.
Once common, the tree lobster was decimated by the introduction of black rats to the island in 1918 when a supply ship, the SS Makambo, ran aground. The last tree lobster was seen on the island in 1920.
Enter Ball’s Pyramid, a jutting rock 20 kilometers southeast of Lord Howe Island. At 562 meters, it is the tallest volcanic stack in the world. As you can imagine, this makes it an attractive spot for climbers, who love a challenge.
In 1964, some intrepid adventurers discovered a dead Lord Howe Island stick insect while attempting to scale Ball’s Pyramid. The implications of this were obvious, but it was years before anything more was discovered. Primarily due to the risky prospect of looking for extinct nocturnal insects on the side of a tall rock in the sea.
In 2001, a couple of Australian scientists (David Priddel and Nicholas Carlile) and their two assistants went to take a look. Having found nothing and on their way back down, the group discovered one tenacious melaleuca bush and some insect crap. It was just the crap they wanted to see.
Being scientist types, they couldn’t resist solving the mystery and so they returned to make the climb to that melaleuca bush at night.
As Dr. Ian Malcolm said, “Life breaks free, it expands to new territories and crashes through barriers.”
From those 24, a select few specimens were bred to form a decent sized captive population.
The question then becomes how to reintroduce them into their natural habitat. As you might expect, giant insects get no love from the average island bloke.
Stories of extinction always get me thinking about what it is like to be the last of your kind. Not in the same sense as Omega Man’s Dr. Robert Neville. Rather as just a creature making your way in the world without any grand retrospection. Without even really grasping what has happened.
The tree lobsters lost their war with the rats in just two years. They never had a shot.
It is perhaps different for solitary animals, such as a Siberian Tiger, than it might be for group-oriented animals such as wolves or a small band of stick insects clinging to a single bush on a craggy rock in the sea.
That bush and those tree lobsters were there for each other, at least. It might be the best any of us can hope for at the end.
- Six-Legged Giant Finds Secret Hideaway, Hides For 80 Years (vineoflife.net)
- The Lord Howe Island Stick Insect (deakinscicomm.wordpress.com)
- “Tree Lobsters” Escape Extinction Under a Single Bush (earthfirstnews.wordpress.com)