The Lord Howe Island in Australia is home to the Lord Howe Island stick insect, also known as tree lobster; but these fascinating insects were thought to have gone extinct after a ship beached at the island in 1918, bringing with it a shipload of rats that decimated the tree lobster population - NPR reports.
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But the insects are back from the dead, and this news is catching the world by storm. A number of researchers went to Ball’s Pyramid, a few miles from Lord Howe Island filled with rocky mountains out of the South Pacific Ocean, where they droppings of the insects in 2001, and within a few days more were able to find a few of the giant bugs.
The discovery of the tree lobster made worldwide news. "It was a massive, massive P.R. event for insects," said Paige Howorth, the San Diego Zoo’s curator of entomology, "especially an insect like this, which is not one you would deem charismatic, you know, for the most part."
In 2003, scientists went to Ball’s Pyramid where they brought back two male tree lobsters and two females. The Melbourne Zoo has now opened a breeding program to conserve the insects. The insects will be released back into the wild on Lord Howe Island after a number of years, but not until the rats on the islands are dealt with.
The San Diego Zoo attempted to breed the tree lobster some years ago but failed, largely because the plants which the insects feed on are not available in the United States; these plants will need to be introduced from Melbourne before the insects can be successfully bred in the US.
And this is what scientists from the zoo did. They brought back clippings of the plant from Australia and grew them into bushes, and then Howorth went to Melbourne to bring back 300 eggs of tree lobsters. These have started to hatch at the San Diego Zoo already.
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"The nymphs seem to emerge from the egg overnight or in the very early morning hours," Howorth said, observing that the little ones munch on the plants as soon as they are fully hatched. "The nymph that comes out of the egg is about three times the size of the egg itself. It's just folded up in there like an origami piece or something — it's amazing."