The (horribly awesome) things that live on Ball's Pyramid

Ball's Pyramid looks like a place where nothing could survive. The remnants of a long-dead volcano, it sits alone in the South Pacific ... a narrow, rocky half-moon some 1800 feet high.

But Ball's Pyramid isn't devoid of life ...

for years this place had a secret. At 225 feet above sea level, hanging on the rock surface, there is a small, spindly little bush, and under that bush, a few years ago, two climbers, working in the dark, found something totally improbable hiding in the soil below. How it got there, we still don't know.

What they found is horribly awesome and awesomely horrible and you need to read the whole story, written by NPR's Robert Krulwich.

Via Elizabeth Preston. If you want a hint, she described this as, "a really beautiful story about some really disgusting giant insects."


  1. Now that I know there’s such a thing as a “tree lobster” I kind of want to eat one with a side of manatee (aka “sea cow”) just for the novelty of a reverse surf-n-turf.

  2. What charming creatures!

    I don’t understand all the horrible/disgusting comments.  They strongly remind me of the way small boys and misogynists describe female genitalia, though.

    I wonder if tree lobsters would be tasty broiled in butter?

    1. One more way to know I’m not a misogynist: these critters in no way resemble anything like female genitalia to me.

      But this line made me shiver:

      It was 12 centimeters long and the heaviest flightless stick insect in the world.

      The implication being that the only stick insects in the world heavier than these… are ones that can fly.

      Creepy enough, but I remember once riding my bike down a long, steep hill road as a lad.  After I topped 45 mph, a large grasshopper jumped in front of me, and crashed into my forehead.  I was surprised at how much that hurt.

        1. That’s no stick.  It’s a bough.  Gahh…

          And then they mentioned this:

          A 278mm Malayan Phobaeticus serratipes for example measured 555mm including legs stretched out.

          A couple inches short of two feet long.  I’m gonna need bigger bullets.

      1. I meant the way certain groups go “ewwwww!!! That’s so gross!!” when they see a naked woman, did not mean to imply that these  charming bugs were as beautiful as ladyparts.  Re-reading my post I see where you could get that impression, though – sorry about that.

        I know what you mean about the grasshopper.  I rode a motorcycle into a cloud of cicadas once at around 80 mph, hundreds of them as big as your thumb.  I nearly dumped the bike – it was like I’d been targeted by a machine gun!  Afterwards I had welts all over my body, even though I was wearing a helmet and pigskin jacket.

  3. I know this is awesome, but watching those things hatch from their tiny eggs still makes me want to vomit. How does all that grossness fit in such a tiny package?

  4. I don’t know why people would want to eat one.  They are probably all white and squishy inside like a cockroach.  Blech!  Better to just let ’em live.

  5. Great great story. I feel a little happier now. “I’m still here. Don’t let me go.”

  6. I was *so* happy when he finally got his other front leg outta that thing.  
    Go dryocelus australis!

    1. It was driving me insane watching it with it´s legs stuck like that, to the point where I couldn´t take it anymore and had to skip to the end.

  7. I remember hearing this years back but it’s cool to get an update on progress. They’ve been reintroduced on Lord Howe in a special habitat zone. They still don’t beat the wetapunga though

  8. Reading Krulwich isn’t nearly as annoying as listening to him interrupt himself on the radio.

  9. After spending a week on Lord Howe twenty years ago, I think the people there are as trustworthy of natural treasures as anybody I would want deciding a species’ fate.  Granted, rats vs. giant walking sticks is a bit of a Sophie’s choice dilemma, but I’m sure they will do the right thing.  I’m don’t know if it is still the case, but it is the only place I’ve ever been with no locks and keys.  On anything.  When you are on an isolated (but oh, so lush) rock with only 200 other people, you develop a rather long term perspective on life.

    1. Sophie’s choice?  Kill all the rats.  They can live anywhere and everywhere and do.  Those particular insects really only live on that particular place and there aren’t many of them.  The rats were accidentally and artificially introduced.  Seems pretty straight-forward to me.

  10. Very cool article. Love reading about those unexplained pockets of evolution that survive.
    Now we can look forward to reading how they return to Lord Howe Island and take their sweet, cold Darwinian revenge on those rat bastards. 

    “The Buggening 2 – They’re back. And this time it’s PERSONAL.”

  11. I wouldn’t want to wake up with one on my face, but I generally find bugs that are too big to hide less disturbing than sneaky, little ones.

    1. Unless they are 10″ long venomous centipedes that are fast as lightning, like we have here in Hawaii, of course . . .

      1.  The bites of which hurt like hell.  
        I have a true horror story to tell about those. 
        But I won’t.  Nobody believes it – to protect their sanity. 

          1. A dare?
            tl;don’tr version? 
            Seeing a giant centipede is considered a bad omen in Hawai’i.  There is also the common belief that where you kill one centipede another will come to avenge the dead.   Centipede venom rarely kills a person, but can make a victim wish it had. 

            Indeed, it really was a dark and stormy night, on the north shore of Maui during the rainy season. 
            The heavy tropical rain, that had not stopped for three weeks, droned and drummed on the old cane house’s tin roof.  The hard gusts drove the sound of whipping coconut fronds and cool sprays of moisture through the closed louvered glass windows. 
            The bronzed beauty, who had kindly invited me to her bed looked fantastic on white sheets in the light of a nervously flickering candle.  A good bit more attractive than you would picture her. 
            A passing thought, a fleeting pang of guilt, but really, her absent boyfriend wasn’t a particularly close friend of mine.  If doing that guys girl was wrong I didn’t want to be right.  Right?  I was very young, drunk and horny. 
            Tender touches, goosebumps.  The sound of our exited breathing mixing with that of the torrential downpour,  the surf thundering in the bay… 
            That is when a heavy, writhing mass of physically revolting texture fell onto the back of my head, my neck and back.  Wheeling around in horror I shook off some of that “thing”.  
            In the strobing light of the candle I saw balls of dozens, hundreds of these monsters 
            that had fallen, broken through the termite eaten ceiling of the old house by sheer weight of number.
             Adults and many, many juveniles, spreading, scattering quickly over the bed, dropping off me, clawing into me, tangled in my hair. 
            I assure you juveniles already carry venom, their bite draws blood. 
            I cannot reasonably describe the insane horror I felt at that moment, but it completely paled in comparison to the searing pain setting in just about then. 
            Unless you’ve experienced being bitten by a black widow, having a giant centipede run its  venom-filled, fang-like,  gnathopods (modified front legs) into your flesh  probably hurts more than you think. 
            But then the pain multiplies by itself, over and over. 
            I was quite surprised by the intensity of the experience.  I had over thirty bites some of which took a couple of months to heal and left scars on my skin. 
            Others on my psyche. 
            They are heavy, hard, strong and very fast. 
            They can catch mice and kill them with their venom.  
            It isn’t easy to stomp them barefooted.  They just won’t die and they scatter quickly. 
            They angrily come after your naked feet.
            Fascinating critters. 

            Instant karma. 
            If one believes in that sort of thing. 
            Preemptive karma even, and harsher than necessary. 
            Or lets say there was a god. 
            And he was a bigot. 
            And he had rules about sexuality and really cared that his human creatures not break those rules, and don’t screw for fun. 
            If this god smote us evildoers by unexpectedly dropping pounds of his hellish minions upon us – we’d quit that, whatever that is we enjoy doing, immediately. 
            I just know that. 
            Or I could just credit this Scolopendra
            subspinipes-incident as being one of the many reasons I’ve never gotten my haole ass shot. 

            Now, would you believe that?

          2. I’ve certainly learned my lesson about going home with strange men in Interzone.

  12. I’m sure that the scientists involved are more informed on the issue than I am, but something seems wrong with the idea of deciding that a previous ecosystem was more desirable than the current ecosystem and therefore the best solution is to kill all the rats and re-introduce these stick insects.

    I mean sure, rats come and kill insects, therefore rats should be killed and insects re-introduced sounds like a simple enough solution for the mistake of introducing the rats in the first place, but sure the rats introduction has affected the ecosystem in more complex ways that might be more difficult to measure. Wiping them out now may cause complex unforeseen problems for another species that is now flourishing. You can’t just remove one predator and expect the only result to be more of whatever was prey for that creature.

    1. The situation here is a totally barren microcosm with basically ONE BUSH for sustenance or else going back to the original (and relatively speaking much bigger) homeland.

      Meanwhile, scientists have a pretty good understanding of what changes occur when rats are introduced. AFAIK, there are no unique species worthy of special saving that miraculously crop up as a result of rat infestation.

      If only Hawaii could rid itself of the feral pigs and get back every species that was wiped out by their introduction.

      1. If only Hawaii could rid itself of the feral pigs and get back every species that was wiped out by their introduction.

        I believe they have an eradication program called ‘dinner’.

        1.  Dakine kalua pig. Ono. 
          They have been feral for a thousand years.  Hard to put a serious dent into their population.  Most of Hawai’i’s rainforest is not accessible by humans. 

  13. I don’t think they are gross at all, pretty cute actually… for a bug. Not ladybug cute, but still cute. Rats vs. big bugs… unless they are biters, I don’t see what there would be to choose.

  14. I lke how the care/feeding manual linked in the article  uses Chinese takeaway boxes as a standard container. :)

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