Phantom Phasmids

The Lord Howe Island Phasmid or Land Lobster, Dryococelus australis, may be the rarest insect in the world and is possibly also the rarest invertebrate.

Male Lord Howe Island Stick-insect

Matthew Bulbert © Australian Museum

Once abundant on Lord Howe Island, it was thought to have been extinct after a shipwreck introduced rats to the island in 1918.

There had been only two recorded sightings since then, both of dead specimens collected from Ball's Pyramid. Ball's Pyramid is an inhospitable rock 16 km south of the Island.

In February 2001, a team from the Australian Museum, New South Wales National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) and the Lord Howe Island Board went in search of living specimens. They climbed the narrow ledges and crumbling faces of Ball's Pyramid, and were excited to find droppings and eggs - but no stick insects. As the animals are nocturnal, the team then braved a night climb and found three living specimens. A return visit in 2002 found a further 24 in the same spot.

A captive breeding program has been proposed to build the numbers of the Lord Howe Island Phasmids. It is hoped that this large flightless insect (approximately 15 cm long) may one day be reintroduced to its former range.

 


Dr David Britton , Head, Natural Sciences & Biodiversity Conservation
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