This video is a slow burn, but it’s mesmerizing. This stick insect, painstakingly extruding itself from its egg, is an individual from one of the most endangered insect species on Earth. Given how long it takes for this one to get free, you can get a sense of how devastating it was when rodents were introduced to its home island, Lord Howe Island in Australia. A insect this preoccupied with hatching can’t outrun a hungry rat.
The Lord Howe Island stick insect, as it’s called, was declared extinct in 1960. But a 2001 mission to a jagged, barren rock of an island nearby found the place was not quite as barren as scientists had thought. After they had climbed up hundreds of feet of sheer rock face, writes Becky Crew at Running Ponies, they saw something strange:
Dizzy and dehydrated, they climbed back down to the boat, and passed a single Melaleuca howeana – a dense, short and hardy bush native to Lord Howe Island – that grew in a small crevice containing what was likely to be the only patch of soil on the whole formation. And there sat, as Carlile described it, “a large poo”. Upon revisiting the bush the day after, the team were astounded to find two huge stick insects, quietly straddling the bush. “It was just phenomenal,” says Carlile. “Even 12, 13 years later it is one of the highlights of my life.”
It turns out this little bush was feeding the entire population of Lord Howe Island stick insects on Ball’s Pyramid – 24 individuals in total – providing food and a soft soil surface for them to lay their eggs in. This little bush, and those that no doubt preceded it, had been sustaining the only Lord Howe Island stick insects in the world for half a century.
Some of the survivors and their eggs were brought to mainland zoos, and now Melbourne Zoo, which started with a single breeding pair, now has some 9,000 individuals. To read more about the insect’s future, and the ambitious plans to reintroduce it to its native habitat, head over to Running Ponies.