Today we look at claims that the “Tree Lobster” is one of the rarest insects in the world, believed to be extinct since 1930 until its recent rediscovery.
Other names for the “tree lobster” include “land lobster,” Dryococelus australis, and Lord Howe Island stick insect. Its “extinction” in 1930 was fueled by the introduction of black rats onto Lord Howe Island after a ship ran aground there 12 years earlier.
The insect’s re-discovery came in 2001 on Ball’s Pyramid, which is a steep rocky volcanic stack 14 miles away from Lord Howe Island. 24 of these insects were found living in plant debris below a shrub. Two years later, 4 specimens were removed from the site and taken back to Melbourne Zoo to begin a breeding program.
Upon its discovery, the Tree Lobster was believed to be the rarest insect in the world, supported by a sole bush. The story was heavily covered in media back in 2012, but follow-up stories have been scant.
A breeding program in Melbourne had increased the population to over 9000 as of November 2012. Recent studies show the insect to date back 22 million years, which is even older than Lord Howe Island itself. Australian Geographic reported in 2014 that experts were planning to re-introduce the tree lobster to Lord Howe Island. This would be achieved by eradication of rodents, and the introduction of an owl species which would keep the insect’s population in check. As of 2016, this problem still hasn’t been rectified to the point that the insects can be reintroduced.
A failed attempt to further breed the insect was attempted by the San Diego Zoo. It was believed that the breeding attempt failed because they were not using the proper plants to feed the insects.
Experts have noted that, despite its menacing appearance, the Tree Lobster doesn’t bite people. It has also been pointed out that male and females sleep together in pairs, with the male’s legs wrapped around the female.
The story of the tree lobster is told in the award-winning animated short film Sticky.
Here is a video segment about the breeding program of the Tree Lobster:
The “tree lobster” was thought extinct after 1930 due to the inadvertent introduction to rats on Lord Howe Island. In 2001, a small group of specimens was discovered and a breeding program has since been in place.
- Act Wild for Lord Howe Island Stick Insects (YouTube Video)
- Tree lobster came from ancient sunken island (Stephanie Stohr, Cosmos)