Gigantic “Tree Lobsters” Not Extinct After All

Researchers identify the Lord Howe Island stick insect on the remains of a large volcano in the Tasman Sea between Australia and New Zealand.

By | October 9, 2017

WIKIMEDIA, GRANITETHIGHSA population of Lord Howe Island stick insects (Dryococelus australis), also known as tree lobsters, has been identified on a volcanic spire in the Tasman Sea, according to a report published last week (October 5) in Current Biology. Officially declared extinct in 1986, the 15-centimeter long insects were thought to have been wiped out shortly after the introduction of black rats onto Lord Howe Island from an infested ship in 1918.

Although there had been a few sightings of similar-looking insects in the region since then, this is the first time the animals have been conclusively identified since their disappearance almost 100 years ago. “The stick insect [story] illustrates the fragility of island ecosystems, and in particular, how vulnerable they are to manmade changes like invasive species,” Alexander Mikheyev, an evolutionary biologist at the Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology, says in a statement. “It just took one shipwreck and the fauna of the island has been altered in such a fundamental way.”

In 2001, a survey of Ball’s Pyramid, the remains of a large volcano about 20 kilometers away from Lord Howe Island, turned up a handful of live insects that appeared similar to the supposedly extinct tree lobsters. But it took a genomic analysis of the animals to confirm that they were indeed members of the same species—revealing less than 1 percent divergence with historical museum specimens.

See "Finding Phasmids"

The researchers are now considering how the insects might be reintroduced to Lord Howe Island following a rodent eradication program being planned for the region from 2018. “In this case, it seems like we’re lucky and we have not lost this species forever, although by all rights we should have,” Mikheyev says in the statement. “We get another chance—but very often we do not.”

Add a Comment

Avatar of: You



Sign In with your LabX Media Group Passport to leave a comment

Not a member? Register Now!

LabX Media Group Passport Logo

Popular Now

  1. 2017 Top 10 Innovations
    Features 2017 Top 10 Innovations

    From single-cell analysis to whole-genome sequencing, this year’s best new products shine on many levels.

  2. Thousands of Mutations Accumulate in the Human Brain Over a Lifetime
  3. Antiviral Immunotherapy Comes of Age
    News Analysis Antiviral Immunotherapy Comes of Age

    T-cell therapies are not just for cancer. Researchers are also advancing immunotherapy methods to protect bone marrow transplant patients from viral infections. 

  4. The Rising Research Profile of 23andMe
    News Analysis The Rising Research Profile of 23andMe

    An exploration of the genetics of earlobe attachment is just the latest collaborative research project to come out of the personal genetic testing company.