How the Tree Lobster Escaped Extinction

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The tree lobster, also known as the Lord Howe Island stick insect (Dryococelus australis), was once thought to be extinct. However, through a miraculous twist of fate and dedicated conservation efforts, this nocturnal insect has escaped its presumed demise.

Native to Lord Howe Island located in the Tasman Sea between Australia and New Zealand, the tree lobster was driven to extinction on the island by invasive black rats that arrived with shipwrecked sailors in 1918. The rats feasted on these large, flightless insects, leading scientists to declare them extinct by 1920.

But in 2001, researchers discovered a small population of tree lobsters living on Ball’s Pyramid, a steep volcanic outcrop 23 kilometers from Lord Howe Island. The insects were found clinging to a single shrub hanging over the ocean. How they got there remains a mystery. It’s speculated that seabirds may have carried some insects over, or they could have floated across the sea on vegetation.

Conservationists took swift action to save the species from its edge-of-the-cliff existence. Breeding programs were established at zoos such as Melbourne Zoo in Australia and San Diego Zoo Global in the United States. These programs were successful in nurturing captive populations of tree lobsters and understanding their dietary and habitat needs.

Through careful breeding, there are now several hundred individuals secured in captivity. This offers hope that one day they might return to their native ecosystems. Efforts are underway to eradicate the invasive rat population from Lord Howe Island to make the environment safe again for reintroducing the tree lobsters.

The story of the Lord Howe Island stick insect is not just about survival; it’s an inspiring narrative of biodiversity conservation and humankind’s responsibility towards coexisting species. The tree lobster’s escape from extinction is a powerful reminder of resilience in nature and testament to what dedicated conservation initiatives can achieve against overwhelming odds.

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