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Giant stick insect saved from extinction

'Tree lobster' bred in captivity, thanks in part to Dick Smith

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A colossal stick insect, assumed extinct for 80 years, has been found in the wild, bred in captivity, and now has a population of over 700 awaiting possible repatriation.

Dryococelus australis, commonly known as Tree Lobsters thanks to their tough carapace, are native to Lord Howe Island, a pacific speck belonging to Australia. Specimens have reached 15cm in length.

National Public Radio reports that rats wiped out the insects in the 1920s, but that a 2001 expedition found a colony of 24 on neighbouring Ball's Pyramid, the peak of an ancient volcano.

NPR's account differs from that of Australian Story, which says a 2005 expedition mounted by Dick Smith photographed the colossal stick insect.

But a recent expedition to Ball's Pyramid (first climbed by a team led by Dick Smith), a nearby seamount, found a small colony. Four lobsters were removed to Australia where painstaking efforts led to a successful breeding program.

More than 700 now reside in Melbourne Zoo, awaiting a possible return to Lord Howe Island. Sadly the island still teems with rats, meaning any return would likely see the lobsters devoured again.

It therefore seems unlikely we will all need to welcome our new Tree Lobster overlords.

Updated

The story has been updated to correct the statement that the Tree Lobster is the world's largest insect. A reader suggested New Zealand's Weta holds that crown, but the Malaysian Megastick looks tough to beat.

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