World's Rarest Insect found on Rocky Spire

Dylan Thuras is a guest blogger on Boing Boing. Dylan is a travel blogger and the co-founder of the Atlas Obscura: A Compendium of the World's Wonders, Curiosities, and Esoterica, with Joshua Foer.

Balls Pyramid from Above.jpg  

Ball's Pyramid is fairly amazing at first glance. However it wasn't until 2001 on a much closer inspection of the island, that scientists realized just how amazing the island, and its inhabits, really were

The remnants of a once massive volcano, Ball's Pyramid juts 1,843 feet out of the Pacific ocean. Discovered in 1788, the barren, rocky spire was thought to be devoid of life until 2001 when a group of scientists discovered what may be the world's rarest insect.

The Lord Howe Island stick insect (Dryococelus australis) had not been seen alive in over 70 years. Known as "land lobsters" or "walking sausages," the six inch long insects had once been common on the neighboring Lord Howe Island, but were assumed to have been eaten into extinction by black rats introduced when a supply ship ran aground in 1918.

Yet in 2001 the scientists found a colony of the huge Lord Howe Island stick insects living under a single bush, a hundred feet up the otherwise entirely infertile rock. Somehow a few of the wingless insects escaped and managed--by means still unknown--to traverse 23 kilometers of open ocean, land on Ball's Pyramid, and survive there. Just 27 of the insects have been found on the rocky spire. They are currently being bred in captivity.

Links to Ball's Pyramid on the Atlas and a link to the fact sheet on the Lord Howe Island stick insect.

295px-Dryococelus_australis_02_Pengo.jpg

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  1. hurricane (or are they cyclones in the south Pacific?)? tidal wave? alien entomologists?

    all likely culprits in the insect’s relocation.

  2. That’s really awesome, and I hope I never see one in real life because I think I would freak out and squish it immediately, without thinking.

    As much as my inner nerd is fascinated by bugs, my outer girl gets wiggy about them and tends to smash first, ask questions later.

  3. Wow, I think I might have seen this island, but didn’t know what it was at the time. About an hour or so into a Sydney -> LA flight I saw this huge spire of rock sticking out of the ocean in the middle of nowhere, but I was never able to figure out what the heck it was.

    Thanks, useful guest blogger!

  4. @ BOB DOLES COMMY ETC:

    i may be wrong, but i think this island would be impossible to see at cruising altitude.

  5. “They are currently being bred in captivity.”

    Don’t we have enough insects ? It not as if they were cute :)

  6. According to Wikipedia, the breeding in captivity is going strong, and they now number in the hundreds, with thousands of eggs on the way. Lord Howe’s Island is eradicating its rats, and restoring the native bugs:

    Dryococelus australis

  7. #6: The rats give them two paws up.

    * * *

    That island is begging to be bought by a billionaire and equipt with an underground base and a death ray.

    If you look carefully you can see that this island and the rocks in the background are actually on the rim of a sunken crater.

  8. Did anyone else instantly think, hey, they may only be like d4 or d6, but they are prolly gettin like three hits a round?

  9. @ stefan jones

    “If you look carefully, Mister Bond, you can see that this island and the rocks in the background are actually on the rim of a sunken crater.”

    fyt

  10. I doubt the claim that the island is devoid of life. An account of climbing the island mentions “waves of centipedes”.

  11. “to centipedes whose venom turned the arms and heads of some bivouacing climbers into touchy, watermelon-sized swellings after torches had dimmed and they could no longer defend themselves with piton hammers. “

  12. From wikipedia:

    “The behavior of this stick insect is highly unusual for an insect species. The males and females form some kind of a bond. The males follow the females and their activities depend on what the female is doing. During the night the couple sleeps together with three of the male’s legs wrapped around the female.”

    That’ll keep me smiling at the world for a while.

  13. Mmm, walking sausage. Does it taste like chicken or real sausage? Inquiring minds want to know!

  14. “During the night the couple sleeps together with three of the male’s legs wrapped around the female.”

    sounds pretty normal to me.

  15. Cool, it seems these insects got what the Pirate Bay guys didn’t: their own island!

  16. 3 legs to wrap around, the other three to hide the embarrassing boner. minus two legs, sounds about right.

  17. These creatures almost ound like they could be the subject of a science fiction story. Someone please write it! :)

    Brave little souls. Go them!

  18. “the barren, rocky spire was thought to be devoid of life …. in 2001 the scientists found a colony of the huge Lord Howe Island stick insects living under a single bush”

    Um, didn’t they notice the bush?

    plants = life, you know.

  19. This post actually makes me quite sad.

    The reason that these insects are there is because we humans never have.

    It wont be long before no place on earth will have been disrupted invaded by us.

  20. @ 14 – the island is a third of a mile in height, so would easily be visible from cruising altitude, which is about seven miles, even if you’re ten or twenty miles away on the ground.

    After all, from the ground it is easy enough to spot a plane at cruising height, though it is a lot smaller: even an A-380 is only 260 feet across.

  21. Technically speaking, there must be even rarer, yet existing, bugs with an observed population count of zero. There’s no way that we’ve catalogued more than a fraction of the species out there.

    As all computer scientists know, you’ll never find all the bugs.

  22. Shame on you ladies, wanting to smash this poor bug because it doesn’t qualify as what you consider “cute”. The males sleep beside a female with legs around their girlfriends. Isn’t that sweet enough to make up for a lack of cuteness? My girl thinks so.

  23. “This image looks straight at the North ridge. The SE ridge used for the first ascent is visible in sihouette on the right, where one can see the named features such as Gannet Green and Winkelstein’s Steeple (named after the oft-repeated song “Balls to Mr. Winklestein”, that was sung repeatedly in bravado by one of the unsuccessful teams as it endured sea urchin spines and barnacle scratches from the landing, falling rock, and waves of centipedes at the bivouac).”

    Excuse me?

  24. #16 posted by Anonymous, June 19, 2009 4:11 PM

    “They are currently being bred in captivity.”

    Don’t we have enough insects ? It not as if they were cute :)

    Hey #16. We already have enough humans. Don’t breed.

  25. @17,

    “That island is begging to be bought by a billionaire and equipt with an underground base and a death ray.”

    I’ll think about it. I’m trying to sell my *current* private-island-with-an-underground-base-and-a-death-ray.

    Due to the current economic climate, I am unable to afford *two* such facilities.

  26. @47,

    Is your current private-island-with-an-underground-base-and-a-death-ray listed on MLS?

  27. I’ve seen plenty of things this size or smaller from cruising altitude in a commercial jet. I always bring along maps when I’m flying during the day and enjoy following along on the map what I can see on the ground.

  28. @48,

    Yes!

    But the people who have come to the Open Houses keep complaining about the torture chambers not having the latest type of floor tile.

    And that while stainless steel may be in vogue for refrigerators, it is apparently no longer so for “slabs on which to restrain one’s victim while shooting a laser beam between his legs and taunting him.”

    Go figure.

  29. Some good quality pictures of collection specimens of this insect can be seen here: http://www.australianmuseum.net.au/Entomology-Collection-Phantom-Phasmids#

    Trivia: if you count the number of segments in the right front leg they are one less than in the left leg. This is because at some stage the immature insect has lost or damaged the right leg, and in subsequent moults has regrown the leg. This is a feature of phasmids (stick insects/walking sticks), and you can pick it because the regrown leg is one segment smaller.

  30. @#36 Keeper of the Lantern: Way to keep it classy.

    @#43 TroofSeeker: Hey, as a girl, I for one find stick insects to be pretty much the most adorable insects. I think as a general rule, bigger insects are cuter than small ones. Except for spiders and centipedes. Because with them you realise just how ridiculously large their fangs are.

  31. The article is rubbish. I’ve been to Lord Howe Island 3 times, the first was in 1982 – at that time everyone on the island knew of Dryococelus australis – the Lord Howe Island Stick insect – and it was common knowledge that there were live specimens living on Balls Pyramid.

  32. A island with six inch long insects! It’s a pity there’s no room for King Kong and all those dinosaurs…

  33. as information on internet.
    They seemed to be extinct species from 1900’s till 2001. but later on, found on this Island.

    so its best example of Lazarus effect.

  34. galapagoes really needs to be put in a giant glass bubble allowing none of our outside influences to get in or its extravigant and amazing life to be let out into our sesspool of a polluted and beat up planet. the entirety of those islands and all its species is a rare and invaluable gift for not only humanity but the creation of our planet and all its inhabitants.(take out the money value and switch it with adoration and pride and perhaps we can save some of these interesting finds and not have to breed them in captivity. YES captivity saves the species, but … it does not allow it free will to live or survive on its own, pretty much captivity is humans way of putting it in a cage, shelving it and letting the kiddies at the zoo walk by and take a peek, what kinda life is that? humans just dont get it yet. i hope u post this, i do not do technology well and i dont sign up to things, but i appreciate being able to let out a comment about something so extraordinary.
    chad in canada.

  35. To ensure the bug’s future, make a taste smacking delicacy of it. That will ensure its survival!

  36. they may of all been killed due to their efforts of taking over the world…..leave it to humans to breed them to get their population back up so they can take over the world!!!

  37. i really think i saw a similar bug in southern illinois in 1993, or was that a mole cricket?

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