In 1918 a British cargo vessel ran aground on Lord Howe Island, 300 miles east of Australia. When the ship was evacuated, a swarm of hungry black rats also hopped off and acquired a taste for the local haute cuisine: enormous, flightless, nocturnal stick bugs with lobster-like exoskeletons. Two years later the rats were thriving, but the “tree lobsters” — as island settlers called them — had vanished. By 1960 scientists believed Dryococelus australis extinct.
Fast-forward to 2001, when two scientists climbing the tiny islet called Ball’s Pyramid with towering, nearly vertical rock walls — about 13 miles from Lord Howe — found a bush sheltering fresh insect poop. Since they couldn’t find the poopers that day, researchers determined to make the formidable climb back to the bush at night … to discover 24 tree lobsters living around it. This single precariously placed bush is presumably the last place on Earth where these critters exist in the wild.
Now, after captive-breeding success, conservationists are asking Lord Howe residents: Won’t you help these incredible insects repopulate your island?
Learn more from NPR and watch a riveting video of a tree lobster hatching.