DNA analysis shows long lost insect is not extinct after all
A new study has proved that, despite common belief it went extinct more than 80 years ago, the Lord Howe Island stick insect still exists.

By Dan Taylor | Jul 28, 2017

The Lord Howe Island stick insect, which scientists thought went extinct almost 100 years ago, still exists, a new study in Current Biology reports.

The large, stick-like insects originally lived on Lord Howe Island, which sits in the Tasman sea off the coast of Australia. However, scientists thought they died off when black rats first came to the isle after the 1918 wreck of the steamship Makambo. The rodents swarmed to the island and wiped out numerous species. While scientists believed the stick insects were one such species, the new evidence shows that is not true.

A group of scientists from the Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology University made this discovery by analyzing the DNA of several different stick insect museum specimens. They then compared the results to the DNA from a similar-looking insect recovered from a volcanic outcrop known as Ball's Pyramid. This showed that both insects belong to the same species, a finding that could lead to their reintroduction in the coming years.

"The Lord Howe Island stick insect has become emblematic of the fragility of island ecosystems," said lead researcher Alexander Mikheyev, an evolutionary biologist at the Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology University, according to Reuters. "Unlike most stories involving extinction, this one gives us a unique second chance."

All of the insects seemingly disappeared by 1930, and scientists believed Lord Howe Island was their only home. That perception changed when a rock-climber discovered a similar-looking insect out in the wild. Since then, researchers have put captive breeding programs in place to see if they can revive the species.

However, as there are subtle differences between the insects found on Ball's Pyramid and the ones from the museum's, some researchers questioned if the two animals were the same species. This new study reveals that they are.

This research is important because, not only does it reveal the presence of a supposedly extinct species, but it alsosheds light on island conservation and reveals the fragility of isolated habitats.

"The Lord Howe Island stick insect has become emblematic of the fragility of island ecosystems," said Mikheyev, according to Phys.org. "Unlike most stories involving extinction, this one gives us a unique second chance."

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