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LOOK: This Stick Insect Thought To Be Extinct Still Exists

7 October 2017, 7:11 am EDT By Athena Chan Tech Times
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Help on way for critically endangered Lord Howe Island stick insects

A stick insect once believed to be already extinct for decades resurfaced in in another island in Australia. Although the Lord Howe Island stick insect made a comeback, they still require help as critically endangered creatures.

Survival Of The Lord Howe Island Stick Insect

The Lord Howe Island stick insects thrived in Lord Howe Island in Australia before a shipwreck in 1918 that brought along with it a hoard of black rats. Because there were no other native terrestrial mammals, the black rats wiped out five bird species and 13 insect species including the Lord Howe Island stick insect.

In the 1960s, about three decades after being declared extinct, rock climbers exploring in nearby volcanic island Ball's Pyramid discovered freshly dead remains of insects that looked strikingly like Lord Howe Island stick insects.

A 2001 survey of Ball's Pyramid revealed live specimens of the species feeding on a single tea tree perched 65-meters above sea level. A year later, a total of 24 insects were discovered living on tea trees in the same area. Expedition members collected specimens for research and to help the insects thrive once more via a captive-breeding program at the Melbourne Zoo.

Is It Really The Lord Howe Island Stick Insect?

Although results of the expeditions yielded amazing results, experts still weren't 100 percent sure that the Ball's Pyramid insects are the same as the thought-to-be-extinct stick insects as they looked somewhat different from the museum specimens. The specimens differed in color, and the Lord Howe Island specimens tend to be more robust and had larger femoral spines.

(Photo : Mikheyev, Zwick, et al. | Current Biology) Experts conducted a genetic investigation to determine whether the similar-looking insects are indeed of the same species

To put a name on the Ball's Pyramid insect once and for all, researchers from the Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology (OIST), Zoos Victoria, and the Australian National Insect Collection used genetic sequencing and confirmed that the insects are, indeed, the long lost stick insects of Lord Howe Island. In fact, the DNAs of the insects from the two islands differed by less than 1 percent, which means that they are likely of the same species.

Insect Conservation

As it stands, there are already 60 insect species considered recently extinct, many have disappeared, while other insect species are already in decline.

In the case of the Lord Howe Island stick insect, they are still considered critically endangered, but rodent eradication on Lord Howe Island is expected to begin by mid-2018 in hopes of possibly reintroducing the stick insects to their original home.

"We get another chance — but very often we do not," says Professor Alexander Mikheyev of OIST, lead author of the research paper published in the journal Current Biology.

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