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Valentine Victory

14 February 2017

It was a dramatic real-life rescue exciting enough for an adventure film!

Scientists jumped ashore onto the wave-washed rocky shoreline of Ball’s Pyramid and scaled its steep slopes in search of survivors from a species rediscovered in 2001 after long being thought to be extinct.

That remarkable rescue happened on Valentine’s Day 2003, and two of the precious survivors were escorted to Melbourne Zoo.

Keepers couldn’t resist naming them ‘Adam and Eve’ because this was a new beginning for an ancient species with no living relatives apart from one PNG stick insect species.

Ships rats had invaded their tropical paradise home in 1918 and before long wiped out the Lord Howe Island Stick Insects, also known as Phasmids or Land Lobsters.

How the small colony rediscovered on Ball’s Pyramid in 2001 got there in the first place or survived for so long, no one knows.  Perhaps they floated ashore on driftwood or were left behind by fishermen using them as bait?

Very little was known about the mysterious creatures when they arrived at the Zoo, so intensive round-the-clock monitoring was required to find out basic information such as:

  • when are they active?  (adults are active at night, unlike other stick insects)
  • why is that? (for camouflage, as they are dark brown to black)
  • what about the green newly hatched nymphs? ( (while green, they’re active by day)  
  • when do they change colour? (around a month old)
  • when are they completely dark? (about 3 months old)
  • what do they eat? (leaves of melaleuca, fig, bloodwood and other plants)
  • when do they become adult? (after about six months)
  • how long do they live? (up to two years)
  • How many eggs do they produce?  (up to 300 in a lifetime)
  • How long before the eggs hatch out? (between 6 to 9 months)

Establishing the breeding program for a ‘Lazarus species’ seen as having come back from the dead was a very stressful time for Invertebrate Keepers.

If Adam and Eve had not survived to establish the endangered species breeding colony, there was not going to be a second chance, because no more would be taken from Ball’s Pyramid.

Fortunately the program has been such a success that the program is now in its 13th generation, more than 13,500 have hatched out at the Zoo, and there are currently about 700 Phasmids here, plus thousands of eggs!

Visitors can get a close look at these spectacular survivors in three daily presentations: 11:30am, 12:30pm, and 1pm.