Nearly 100 years ago, a British supply ship ran aground at Lord Howe, a tiny island roughly four hundred miles east of Australia. Black rats trickled off the ship, scouring the island and feasted on its native bug: a large spindly stick insect known as Dryococelus australis, or the “land lobster,” as the Conversation notes.
Within 30 years, the Lord Howe Island stick insects vanished.
Then, in 1964, climbers on a nearby volcano known as Ball’s Pyramid found a dead insect that looked suspiciously like the fabled land lobster. Decades later, researchers in 2001 found two dozen of the glossy black bugs slithering in muck, as NPR reported.
Those bugs, though, looked a little different: They were thinner, with leaner hind legs and different tail ends. For researchers, it begged the question: Were these newly found insects an evolution of the Lord Howe Island ones, or something else?
The very same, according to a new paper in Current Biology, which found DNA between the two differed by less than 1%, “suggesting that the two populations most likely diverged after the origin of this species and not long enough ago for speciation to have taken place.”
Fewer than 30 adult stick insects are left on Ball’s Pyramid, per the Conversation, making it perhaps the rarest insect on earth. Now, researchers want to bring the stick bug back to Lord Howe Island. But first, those rats must die.
A rodent eradication effort will take place on Lord Howe in 2018, after which, if successful, the land lobster will return home.
Follow Josh Hafner on Twitter: @joshhafner
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