Tree lobster is coming back from brink of extinction

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SAN DIEGO – The San Diego Zoo is working to bring the huge tree lobster insect back from brink of extinction.

The Zoo’s entomology department recently received 300 eggs of the critically endangered Lord How Island stick insect – or tree lobster. Their goal is to bring back the 8-inch-long black, shiny rare species, which was believed to be extinct until it was rediscovered in 2001.

“The Lord Howe Island stick insect once thrived in only one place — Lord Howe Island, near Australia. But in 1918, a ship ran aground and the island got overrun by hungry rats. Soon, the island’s famous insect was extinct. Or so everyone thought,” NPR reported.

San Diego Zoo's curator of entomology Paige Howorth with an adult the Lord Howe Island stick insect. (Courtesy of Rick Hammond/Zoos Victoria)

San Diego Zoo’s curator of entomology Paige Howorth with an adult the Lord Howe Island stick insect. (Courtesy of Rick Hammond/Zoos Victoria)

In the 1960s, a few dead tree lobsters were found on a mountain rock in the South Pacific Ocean, miles from Lord Howe Island, according to NPR.  It wasn’t until 2011 that scientists found a few alive.

Recently, 300 eggs were transferred from Australia’s Melbourne Zoo to the United States and are being kept in an off-exhibit area of the San Diego Zoo. As of Thursday afternoon, 11 nymphs have hatched, according to Zoo spokeswoman Jenny Mehlow.

The entomology department hatched the insect in 2012, but the group did not thrive. This time around, the Zoo has grown Australia-native plants that are integral for the tree lobster’s survival.

In order to hatch, the eggs must be in temperatures between 78 and 82 degrees Fahrenheit with 80 percent humidity. The entomologists are using vermiculite, a soil additive that provides the appropriate moisture for the eggs’ development.

Tree lobster days after hatching (San Diego Zoo Global)

Tree lobster days after hatching (San Diego Zoo Global)

Although the Victoria Melbourne Zoo has successfully breed the stick insect, the eggs were sent to San Diego to establish an assurance colony separate from the Melbourne group.

The video shown above was posted 5 years ago by the Victoria Melbourne Zoo.

“In a world first, zookeeper Rohan Cleave captured the amazing hatching process of a critically endangered Lord Howe Island Stick Insect at Melbourne Zoo,” the Zoo posted to Vimeo.