Last updated: 11:00 PM ET, Tue March 24 2015

Want Lobster on Your Next Vacation? How about Tree Lobster?

Features & Advice | Tom Bastek | March 24, 2015

Want Lobster on Your Next Vacation? How about Tree Lobster?

"Lord Howe Island stick insect Dryococelus australis 10June2011 PalmNursery" by Granitethighs via Wikimedia Commons.

Less than a two-hour flight from the Australian mainland, Lord Howe Island is located in the Tasman Sea between Australia and New Zealand. This World Heritage-listed paradise is a great escape for anyone who is looking to relax, unwind, and take in some of the local beauty. There is great snorkeling, scuba diving, and fishing as well as hiking, biking, and bird watching, too. There are about 360 residents and no more than 400 tourists are allowed to visit the island at any given time.

A New Resident?

Over 80 years ago, there was a species of stick insect that was so big that the locals referred to them as “tree lobsters.” Dryococelus australis, as they are officially named, were eaten to the point of extinction by an invasive species of black rat that had come ashore from an English steamship that ran aground. Except that the insect wasn’t extinct, they were simply hiding out on a neighboring island 13 miles away. A story that ran on recently charted the voyage of rediscovery in 2001 of the species by two Australian scientists, David Priddel and Nicholas Carlile, all the way through the red tape and roadblocks of the attempt to repopulate the species. 

“Ball’s Pyramid” By Fanny Schertzer via Wikimedia Commons.

The island where they were discovered is called "Ball's Pyramid” and is totally uninhabited by humans. It is there that the initial population of 24 stick insects was discovered in 2001. The Australian government couldn’t make up their minds about whether they should try to repopulate the species, but eventually decided to give it a shot. 

Patrick Honan, who works with the invertebrate conservation breeding group at the Melbourne Zoo worked night and day, literally to try to get the last surviving two of the only four animals allowed to be taken away from the island to mate and produce offspring. Well suffice it to say, Patrick was successful; really successful. By 2008, Patrick’s collection at the zoo now encompassed 700 adults and 11,376 eggs in cultivation.

Now What?

So now the residents of Lord Howe Island have to make a choice. Will they allow these amazing (and yes, a little creepy) animals back into the population of the island? And more importantly, what kind of black rat culling program has to be put in place before they are re-introduced to the island?  The great news is that either way, the stick insect is thriving and who knows; on your next trip to the paradise you could be sharing your respite and relaxation with a Tree Lobster. Would you want to encounter one of these guys on your next vacation? If you were a resident would you want them back? Between them and the black rats are the stick insects the lesser of two evils? Let me know in the comments below.

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