For millions of years, stick insects roamed the beautiful Lord Howe Island. Then one fateful day in 1918, a ship ran aground and fleeing rats decided to make the island home – and stick insects their dinner. Within a few years, people believed the insects were extinct.
Eighty years later, an expedition was sent to a nearby island. Ball’s Pyramid is a harsh and remote rock, 562 metres high and only 300 metres across. In a protected area on the rock, the expedition found a few stick insects living under a melaleuca tree. The Lord Howe Island stick insect was not extinct after all!
Four insects were collected from Ball’s Pyramid, and for the past decade their descendants have lived at Melbourne Zoo. But it’s not easy to keep stick insects so far from home.
“The insects need complete environmental control,” says Rohan Cleave from Melbourne Zoo. “They won’t survive the winters or the summers in Melbourne. Temperature and humidity are absolutely critical.” To provide the right environment, the insects are currently kept in five climate controlled greenhouses.
In 2008, insects were brought back to Lord Howe Island to start a breeding program. The program was a success, and the insects are strong and healthy. But they need to be kept away from the rats still roaming the island.
Plans are being made to eradicate the rats and make Lord Howe Island safe for stick insects once again. “The perfect environment for these insects is Lord Howe Island,” says Rohan. “It’s heaven on Earth, a beautiful spot.”
If you’re after more science news for kids, subscribe to Double Helix magazine!