Excerpt from original article found at NewScientist.com. Find the full article and much more information there.
15 July 2006 by Stephanie Pain
On 14 June 1918, the supply ship Makambo struck a submerged rock off Lord Howe Island, a volcanic dot 780 kilometres north-east of Sydney, Australia. The cargo was salvaged and taken ashore to the island, which is a semi-tropical paradise, lushly forested and rich in plants and animals found nowhere else. Unfortunately, the ship’s rats came ashore too. They spread rapidly, soon dispatching several island species, including a giant wingless stick insect, or phasmid. By the 1930s, the Lord Howe Island phasmid (Dryococelus australis) was written off as extinct.
By all accounts, it had been a spectacular insect, so big the islanders called it the land lobster. Females grew up to 15 centimetres long, with bodies as thick as a finger and long, stout legs equipped with hooks. The slightly shorter males had peculiarly massive thighs armed with evil-looking spines. They couldn’t fly but they could run surprisingly fast.[…]
However, in 1964, a rock climber found a dead phasmid, not on Lord Howe Island but on Balls Pyramid, a remote spire of rock 24 kilometres to the south-east. Another climber found two more dead phasmids there in 1969, one lodged in a bush, the other as part of a seabird’s nest – a stick insect mistaken for a stick. Was the giant phasmid alive and well and living somewhere on Balls Pyramid? It seemed improbable. This was a creature of warm, damp forests that needed living trees with sizeable hollows to hide in. Balls Pyramid is the world’s highest sea stack, its sheer cliffs rising 550 metres. Isolated, exposed to high winds and with no apparent water supply, the islet has just a few scraps of vegetation and no trees. To everyone’s disappointment but no one’s surprise, every expedition that went in search of giant phasmids drew a blank.
This article from NewScientist is a must-read! A great recount of a fascinating story…
Long Live the Phasmids!
What tipped me off to Land Lobsters? The Tree Lobsters! comic. Science geeks beware- there’s hilarity afoot! Don’t miss the secret messages under each comic.
And the Bug Girl’s Blog.