Reports of Land Lobster's Death Are Greatly Exaggerated

Australian stick insect not extinct after all
By Michael Harthorne,  Newser Staff
Posted Oct 14, 2017 1:34 PM CDT
Reports of Land Lobster's Death Are Greatly Exaggerated
The "land lobster" of Lord Howe Island.   (Peter Halasz/Wikimedia Commons)

Nice try rats, but this 6-inch-long Australian stick insect is still here, Science Magazine reports. According to the Conversation, Dryococelus australis—also known as the "land lobster"—was happily living on Lord Howe Island between Australia and New Zealand when a British ship ran aground a century ago. Rats fled the ship and promptly started gobbling up the insects. By 1920, the flightless, plant-eating insects were declared extinct. Only they weren't, reveals a study published last week in Current Biology.

Two-dozen insects that appeared to be land lobsters were found on the volcanic Ball's Pyramid, about 12 miles from Lord Howe Island, in 2011, USA Today reports. But they looked slightly different than the Dryococelus australis of Lord Howe Island, and scientists couldn't be certain they weren't a different species. Until now. Comparing DNA from the insects found on Ball's Pyramid and museum specimens of Dryococelus australis collected prior to its rat-aided extinction, researchers found less than 1% difference. That's close enough to say the "land lobster" is alive and well. However, with fewer than 30 believed to be left on Ball's Pyramid, it could be the rarest insect in the world. Scientists are breeding the Dryococelus australis with the hope of reintroducing it to Lord Howe Island—once the rats are taken care of, of course. (More insects stories.)

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