EDITOR: Manuel F. Lluberas
Vector Control Systems Manager
H.D. HUDSON MANUFACTURING COMPANY
A giant stick insect pronounced extinct for the past 80 years has been found clinging tenaciously to a rocky pinnacle off Lord Howe Island. Dryococelus australis is now the rarest insect in the world, and possibly also the rarest invertebrate, according to co-discoverer Nick Carlisle, who is a project officer with NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service.
Mr. Carlisle and Lord Howe Island Board Ranger Dean Hiscox were ecstatic to find the stick insect, or phasmid, after risking their lives climbing Balls Pyramid, 16 km south of Lord Howe Island, at night. The phasmid, commonly called the Land Lobster because it is big enough to cover the hand, is a golden honey brown with a white stripe down the side.
The two men tracked the insects by searching for its droppings, called frass, during the day. Upon discovering one deposit under a bush growing out of a sheer rock face, the pair decided to return at night, as the animals are nocturnal. The climb involved negotiating dangerous, narrow cliff ledges, crumbling rock faces and sheer drop-offs in the dark. The waters around Balls Pyramid are known to have numerous sharks.
"I only had a little automatic camera with three shots left when we found the insects," Mr. Carlisle said. "I almost didn't take a camera with me because it was so hard to climb".
The insects were wiped out on Lord Howe when rats were introduced from the supply ship Mokambo when it ran aground in 1918. Along with five species of birds, they were gone by 1930. Two dead specimens were found on Balls Pyramid in the 1960's, and it may be that specimens were carried there from the main island by the local seabirds.
The finding has been described by team leader Dr David Priddel as "the most significant event since the discovery of the Wollemi Pine". The NPWS will now prepare Interim Recovery Actions to protect the species, along with a Species Recovery Plan.