Creature Feature: The Lord Howe Island Stick Insect
This week’s Creature Feature takes us to Lord Howe Island, located approximately 370 miles (660 km) off the eastern coast of Australia. This particular creature is special because it’s been referred to as the “rarest insect in the world”.
The Lord Howe Island Stick Insect (also known as the Land Lobster or the Lord Howe Island Phasmid) is a critically endangered species that was once believed to be extinct. In the 1930s, it was presumed that there were no remaining members of this species; however, they were amazingly rediscovered in 2001. Although the name suggests this Stick Insect is from Lord Howe Island (which was its largest habitat), it was actually extinct on that island for a long time. The rediscovery took place on Ball’s Pyramid (the tallest volcanic stack in the world—14 miles southeast of Lord Howe Island), where less than 30 of these creatures were found.
These Land Lobsters can grow up to 5.9 inches (15 cm) in length and the females are typically larger than the males. They have no wings (unlike most other phasmids), but they are pretty fast runners. One interesting thing to note about this creature is that the males will follow the females and base their own activities on whatever the female is doing. As far as reproduction goes, the female will lay her eggs while hanging from branches. Like human babies, the nymphs will emerge up to 9 months later. When first born, they are bright green and active during the day, but as they get older the green will fade to black and they develop a taste for the nightlife.
Before their extinction on Lord Howe Island, these Stick Insects were used as fishing bait. While that certainly contributed to their decline, what really did them in was the introduction of black rats in 1918, after a ship ran aground. After 1920, none of these insects were ever seen on the island again.
It’s uncertain how many of the Lord Howe Island Stick Insects remain today, but there is some good news. A research team collected 2 breeding pairs of these insects from Ball’s Pyramid, in 2003. One pair was sent to a private breeder in Sydney and the other to Melbourne Zoo. By 2008, the captive population had soared to almost 450 insects and 20 were actually returned to a special habitat on Lord Howe Island.
To find out more about the Lord Howe Island Stick Insect, check out these links:
The Lord Howe Island Phasmid: An Extinct Species Reborn
Preparing Lord Howe Island for the Phasmid
Animal Planet News
Phasmid Study Group – Lord Howe Island Stick Insect Hatching (video)
By Heidi Marshall