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Christmas Bells - Blandfordia nobilis

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Lord Howe Island Phasmids visit Robertson

ABC Four Corners had a brief story on these insects on 22 March 2012.
Scroll through to about 21 minutes into the program, to watch the story.

Thanks to my brother Brendan for the tip off.
It is good to see them breeding up so successfully, and for the chance to see them live (even on the Tele).

26 March 2012


Several Lord Howe Island Phasmids (Dryococelus australis) visited Robertson last evening. They are an ancient form of "Stick Insect". Phasmid is the scientific term for this class of insects.

Don't worry, Folks - this is not an Extension of Range claim.
These guys were in the hands of a licensed and registered "Recovery Team" member.
A pair of Lord Howe Island Phasmids
Stephen Fellenberg spoke to the Robertson Environment Protection Society last night, about the plight of what has been assessed as the rarest insect on earth. 

a Male Lord Howe Island Phasmid in Stephen's left hand.
This species of Stick Insect was considered likely to be extinct from the 1920s, right through to the 1960s. That claim started to be suspected as not accurate, when several freshly dead specimens were reported by two separate groups of climbers, in 1965 and then again in 1968. These climbers had been climbing Balls Pyramid - the highest volcanic "Sea Stack" in the world. A "Sea Stack" is a near vertical rock emerging from the Ocean. Many are old cliff edge remnants, but this one is of volcanic origin. It is some 23 Kms from Lord Howe Island. 

The Lord Howe Island Phasmid used be common on the main island of Lord Howe Island territory, but after Rats were accidentally introduced (after a shipwreck in 1918), these insects appeared to have been eliminated within just a few short years, They had been exterminated by the Rats - on the main Island. 

They were presumed to be extinct, until the climbers reported finding freshly dead specimens, back in the late 1960s, on Balls Pyramid. But access to Balls Pyramid is severely restricted, (both legally and physically). Several researchers went to Balls Pyramid in 2001, and reported having found eggs, and then a small group of these insects were found under some low Lord Howe Island Tea Tree (Melaleuca howeana) shrubs. 
Head of a Lord Howe Island Phasmid - on the Melaleuca howeana
Hopes then started to rise for the recovery of this species. Another expedition was launched in 2003, and live specimens (2 males and 2 females) were brought back to the mainland, in order to establish a recovery program for the species.
head of the smaller insect, the male Lord Howe Island Phasmid
There are several groups of these insects, alive and some breeding success has been occurring, in the research groups. Presumably there are others still "doing their thing" on Balls Pyramid. One hopes so.

It is listed as "Critically Endangered" under the Federal Environment Protection legislation, and listed as "Endangered" under the NSW Threatened Species legislation, (Lord Howe Island is part of the territory of NSW, administratively.)
front view of female Lord Howe Island Phasmid
You may read more about the history of this insect, its near extinction, and its rediscovery, and its recovery program on the website for "Friends of the Phasmid".

You may read more and see images of Lord Howe Island here.

Wikipedia has good coverage of the geology, history, and ecology of the Island and Balls Pyramid.




Snail said...

It's a fascinating story --- one of real derring do! And what an opportunity to see one up close.

Denis Wilson said...

Hi Bronwen.
I knew the talk was on the Phasmids, but didn't take a camera, because I thought hey were going to be only dried, pinned specimens.
Interesting, but not good photographic subjects (except he did have ONE huge one).
However, when he remembered right at the end of the talk, that he had some "live ones" in his special carry case - I rushed home to get the camera. Fortunately, Robertson is only a small village.
Stephen deeply regrets not being able to do the climbing himself, as a result of a traffic accident - two years with plaster on his arm.
He went out to Balls Pyramid, on the boat, and described the 6 metre swells, as the ocean meets a sheer vertical cliff.
Timing is everything - both when getting onto the rock, and then back onto the boat.
And that's the easy part, it seems.
Glad you enjoyed it.

Barbara said...

Fascinating story Denis - I'm glad you went home to get your camera!

Denis Wilson said...

Thanks Barbara.
I thought it was worth the trip too.
Fortunately, Robertson is a village, not a city.
But how often does one get to see these creatures?
Darned hard to get good images, when in a box and not being let out of their handler's hands (for good reason).
Case of publish the best one has.

Keith said...

Excellent post, thank you.

Denis Wilson said...

Thanks Keith
Nice to get your feedback.
It was difficult to write.
Lots of cross-referencing required.

Joy Window said...

I was excited to see them and handle them myself in the nursery on Lord Howe Island. They are fascinating creatures.

Denis Wilson said...

Yes, there is something fascinating about them, for sure.
Glad you had a chance to meet them too.