Back from extinction - breeding success for world’s rarest stick insect

One of the world’s rarest insects has laid eggs at Bristol Zoo Gardens – the first time the species has done so outside Australia.

Hundreds of tiny Lord Howe Island stick insect eggs arrived at Bristol Zoo from Melbourne Zoo last winter in an international effort to save the critically endangered species which was thought to be extinct for almost 80 years until its rediscovery in 2001.

The species is incredibly difficult to look after, but the skilled invertebrate team at the Zoo managed to get six animals to reach adulthood – three breeding pairs.

All three pairs have mated and now tiny eggs have been laid – the first time this has happened anywhere in the world other than in Australia.

These six Lord Howe Island stick insects are hoped to become the founder members of Europe’s first captive breeding programme in an international effort to prevent the species from becoming extinct.

Mark Bushell, Curator of Invertebrates at Bristol Zoo, said: “I’m absolutely ecstatic with this result. To have the opportunity to work with this critically endangered species is a dream come true for me – and now to have bred them is a career highlight.

“This species is very difficult to keep, so to have six individuals reach adulthood is an incredible success for the global conservation programme for this species, to help bring them back from the brink of extinction.”

The eggs should hatch after six months incubation, with the tiny nymphs being the second generation of the species at Bristol Zoo. It is hoped that each generation will breed with greater success as the species becomes more acclimatised to the UK climate and conditions. The animals are being fed on plants specially grown by dedicated horticulturists at the Zoo.

Lord Howe Island stick insects were thought to have been driven to extinction by black rats in the early twentieth century. In 2001 they were rediscovered on Ball’s Pyramid – a rat-free volcanic outcrop off the coast of Lord Howe Island, off the east coast of Australia.

Two breeding pairs were taken to mainland Australia to set up a captive breeding population which is now being rolled out across the rest of the world, with eggs sent to Bristol Zoo, San Diego Zoo and Toronto Zoo in 2015.

Adult Lord Howe Island stick insects are wingless and nocturnal, feeding only on one species of shrub. The one remaining population on Balls Pyramid has just 20-30 individuals left.

Bristol Zoo Gardens is a conservation and education charity and relies on the generous support of the public not only to fund its important work in the zoo, but also its vital conservation and research projects spanning five continents.

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