A big insect saved from extinction

In March I did a post about the Lord Howe Island stick insect Dryococelis australis, the heaviest flightless insect in the world (0.9 oz or 25 gm). Go have a look at the pictures and read the story.  Anyhow, it was nearly extinct, but a few were recovered by climbers on a spire of rock (“Ball’s Pyramid”) offshore of Lord Howe (these islands are in the Tasman Sea between Australia and New Zealand). The insects are now being bred in captivity for reintroduction in the wild.

Over at Scientific American, Bora Zivkovic has posted a really lovely video of one of these stick insects hatching in the Melbourne Zoo, where they’re being brought back from extinction. (Becky Crew, also at Sci Am, give a fuller story).



  1. Christopher
    Posted August 27, 2012 at 11:37 am | Permalink

    Very impressive work to save a very impressive bug, indeed.

  2. gbjames
    Posted August 27, 2012 at 11:38 am | Permalink

    Saved, for the moment.

    • Christopher
      Posted August 27, 2012 at 11:42 am | Permalink

      According to the Wikipedia article, the Melbourne zoo has, as of April, bred over 9000 individuals. That is quite a kickup from the 24 or so that were in the wild by the time the operation began…it does seem the species will have a fighting chance, which is comforting (never thought I would use that term in connection with an insect).

      • gravelinspector
        Posted August 28, 2012 at 12:52 am | Permalink

        That begs (again) the old question of “how small a population can you get away with for long-term security from extinction.
        which itself is not a well defined question : how long is “long-term”? what is “security” (7 billion humans could become 1 with a modicum of biotechnology, or nuclear technology)? is 9000 individuals with 3 different collections of alleles any much better than 6 individuals with the same 3 different collections of alleles? And just how long is that pyramid of rock going to survive anyway – 1,000 years? 10,000? not 100,000 surely?

  3. Posted August 27, 2012 at 11:43 am | Permalink

    Jesus Christ, but that gives me the heebie-jeebies…I know, hardly a scientific response, and not one I’d make considered (especially policy) decisions on…but, damn, that pulls a hell of a lot of triggers….


    • Christopher
      Posted August 27, 2012 at 11:46 am | Permalink

      You’re not alone…I’m a pretty big guy, but I am frozen stiff by a lot of insects, especially arachnids. Guess it takes a lot of goodwill and guts to save the little things.

      • Posted August 27, 2012 at 5:24 pm | Permalink

        Um… arachnida… not insects. 😉


    • TrineBM
      Posted August 27, 2012 at 2:10 pm | Permalink

      I don’t mind the insect. It’s beautiful. But my very slight claustrophobia just kicked in watching this. How. did. that. come. out. of. there??? And the time it took the legs to be freed! Sheer panic-inducing.

  4. aspidoscelis
    Posted August 27, 2012 at 11:54 am | Permalink

    “the heaviest flightless insect in the world (0.9 oz or 25 gm)”

    What about giant weta? If wikipedia is to be believed, they’re been recorded up to 72 grams… and they are also flightless insects…

    • suwise3
      Posted August 27, 2012 at 12:06 pm | Permalink

      AND they are quite robust, not a mere stick. Wetas could arm wrestle you and WIN!

    • Posted August 27, 2012 at 12:28 pm | Permalink

      I’d go look them up on Wikipedia, but I think I actually learned my lesson from this stick insect…and, besides, it’s time for lunch….


    • whyevolutionistrue
      Posted August 27, 2012 at 12:39 pm | Permalink

      I thought of the giant weta, as they’ve gotten up to 72 grams, but I wasn’t sure they were flightless. They do have wings, but they’re such heavy beasts I don’t think they could fly.

      • aspidoscelis
        Posted August 27, 2012 at 1:05 pm | Permalink

        So far as I can tell, they don’t even have wings. If they do, they must be tiny little vestigial things that are not readily visible.

  5. emmageraln
    Posted August 27, 2012 at 12:11 pm | Permalink

    Reblogged this on emmageraln.

  6. Neil
    Posted August 27, 2012 at 12:28 pm | Permalink

    Are there flying insects that weigh more, or is it the heaviest insect period?

  7. abrotherhoodofman
    Posted August 27, 2012 at 1:51 pm | Permalink

    The “pop-off” tops on those cocoons (for lack of a better word) are mind-boggling. Are they natural, or fabricated by humans?

    If they’re natural, then thank-you for my daily dose of evolutionary flabbergast.

  8. teacupoftheapocalypse
    Posted August 27, 2012 at 2:11 pm | Permalink

    When does the Ridley Scott version come out?

    • Posted August 27, 2012 at 5:26 pm | Permalink

      Oh, please FSM, no. (I can take the horror; it’s the scientific inaccuracies that I hate!)


  9. Hempenstein
    Posted August 27, 2012 at 3:20 pm | Permalink

    Hoo-ray! And a particularly heartwarming account after the preceding one.

  10. ladyatheist
    Posted August 27, 2012 at 3:24 pm | Permalink

    Reminds me of Zorak from Space Ghost

  11. shazam
    Posted August 27, 2012 at 3:38 pm | Permalink

    not surprising they are nearly extinct…, they look delicious!

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