Extinct to endangered – Lord Howe Island Stick insect, Dryococelus australis

On Lord Howe Island, near Australia, there once a lived Stick Insect, Dryococelus australis that would masquerade around as a piece of wood. It was so big, as big as a human hand, about 12 centimeters long that it got the nickname “tree lobster”.

Well, as the story goes, in 1918, a ship ran aground at Lord Howe Island, and everyone had to be evacuated as they tried to repair it. Apparently, some smaller guests “evacuated” the ship as well, some black rats escaped onto the island and discovered a new tasty treat…the tree lobsters. Before long, the tree lobsters were all eaten and by 1920 there were no tree lobsters to be found, so in 1960 they were presumed extinct.

However, in the 1960’s there were rumors that “recently dead” stick insects were spotted by two climbers on nearby Ball’s pyramid, an old volcano. But no one could be sure, and certainly nobody wanted to scale a vertical rock face about 500 feet in the dark to look for nocturnal giant stick Insects. 

Image by Rod Morris/www.rodmorris.co.nz

Who could possibly be that enthusiastic, curious, courageous and well a little crazy to go looking for these Stick Insects under the current conditions. Well, scientists of course!

In 2001, Australian Scientist, Nicholas Carlile and local ranger, Dean Hiscox scaled the rock face of Ball’s Pyramid at night, by using flashlights they found 24 of these amazing big insects alive and gathered around a plant.

Nick Carlile stated that when he looked at them, “I felt like stepping back into the Jurassic age, when insects ruled the world”.

They concluded that these stick insects, Dryococelus australis, are the only ones on Ball’s Pyramid, there are no others that exist in the world as far as they know.

Now the issue was, how would they get a few of these insects protected and into a breeding program? They would have to get permission from the Australian government.

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