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Thursday Watercooler


Tonight’s music video is “The Song of Limejuice and Despair” by Shinyribs. Shinyribs performed last night for the 15th anniversary party of my friend James and his wife Hannah. You may know James better as Santa Claus. The band left a definite impression on me, and I’ll be looking out for more from them in the future. So did the happy couple — many more happy returns!

A massive stick bug, the tree lobster

The world’s cuddliest insect?

The Lord Howe Island stick insect (Dryococelus australis, also known as a “tree lobster”) was believed extinct for decades, after the introduction of invasive black rats to their island obliterated the population. But in 2012, NPR reported on the fascinating story of how they were rediscovered on the neighboring island, a precarious outcropping called Balls’ Pyramid:

The Lord Howe Island version was so large — as big as a human hand — that the Europeans labeled it a ‘tree lobster’ because of its size and hard, lobsterlike exoskeleton. It was 12 centimeters long and the heaviest flightless stick insect in the world. Local fishermen used to put them on fishing hooks and use them as bait. Then one day in 1918, a supply ship, the S.S. Makambo from Britain, ran aground at Lord Howe Island and had to be evacuated. One passenger drowned. The rest were put ashore. It took nine days to repair the Makambo, and during that time, some black rats managed to get from the ship to the island, where they instantly discovered a delicious new rat food: giant stick insects. Two years later, the rats were everywhere and the tree lobsters were gone.

… There was a rumor, though. Some climbers scaling Ball’s Pyramid in the 1960s said they’d seen a few stick insect corpses lying on the rocks that looked ‘recently dead.’ But the species is nocturnal, and nobody wanted to scale the spire hunting for bugs in the dark.

Fast forward to 2001, when two Australian scientists, David Priddel and Nicholas Carlile, with two assistants, decided to take a closer look. From the water, they’d seen a few patches of vegetation that just might support walking sticks. So, they boated over. (‘Swimming would have been much easier,” Carlile said, “but there are too many sharks.’) They crawled up the vertical rock face to about 500 feet, where they found a few crickets, nothing special. But on their way down, on a precarious, unstable rock surface, they saw a single melaleuca bush peeping out of a crack and, underneath, what looked like fresh droppings of some large insect.

Where, they wondered, did that poop come from? The only thing to do was to go back up after dark, with flashlights and cameras, to see if the pooper would be out taking a nighttime walk. Nick Carlile and a local ranger, Dean Hiscox, agreed to make the climb. And with flashlights, they scaled the wall till they reached the plant, and there, spread out on the bushy surface, were two enormous, shiny, black-looking bodies. And below those two, slithering into the muck, were more, and more … 24 in all. All gathered near this one plant.

They were alive and, to Nick Carlile’s eye, enormous. Looking at them, he said, ‘It felt like stepping back into the Jurassic age, when insects ruled the world.’

From the tiny population of 24 insects, over 9,000 of the creatures have been bred, with a small population reintroduced to Lord Howe Island. Thanks to FDL’s Lisa Derrick for this link!

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Photo by Peter Halasz released under a Creative Commons Share Alike license.

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Kit OConnell

Kit OConnell

Kit O’Connell is a gonzo journalist and radical troublemaker from Austin, Texas. He is the Associate Editor and Community Manager of Shadowproof. Kit's investigative journalism has appeared in Truthout, MintPress News and