Newly published research confirms that the Lord Howe Island stick insect (Dryococelus australis) also known as a land lobster, is still alive and well on a neighboring island. For decades scientists believed the insects were extinct.
About a century ago a British ship ran aground at Lord Howe Island, which sits east of Australia. Rats aboard the vessel disembarked and began eating the rare insects. Just thirty years later the Lord Howe Island insect was believed extinct.
In 1964 some climbers exploring the nearby Balls Pyramid Island snapped a picture of what looked like a dead Land Lobster.
Balls Pyramid is exceptionally rugged and not inhabited by humans, and the fate of the “extinct” insect remained a mystery until some researchers went back to Balls Pyramid in 2001.
The 2001 expedition led to the discovery of living land lobsters, but the bugs on Balls Pyramid looked a little different.
When scientists compared museum specimens from Lord Howe with the land lobsters of Balls Pyramid. The Lord Howe insects had larger spines and broader hind legs. Researchers believed the morphological differences were subtle and concluded that they were part of the same population. Genetic research was not conducted, until now.
A newly published genetic study confirms that the neighboring insects are the same.
Researchers say their genetic findings suggest that the two populations most likely diverged after the origin of this species and not long enough ago for speciation to have taken place.
The genetic confirmation may make the Lord Howe Island Stick the rarest insect on Earth.
The study provides genetic support that may help facilitate efforts to full recovery of the species. The new genetic information confirms that scientists will not be introducing a new species Lord Howe Island, should they move forward with bringing the species back to the island.
Before any land lobsters are reintroduced to Lord Howe, the island will first have to eradicate all the rodents. A plan to begin eradication is scheduled mid-2018.