The Return of the Phasmid: St Aug’s Exciting Role in Bringing a Species Back from Extinction

St Augustine’s College has entered into a partnership with Zoos Victoria in a world first conservation project. Over 100 schools across Victoria applied to join the fight to save the Lord Howe Island Stick Insect (LHISI), with around 20 chosen for this year’s rearing program. LHISI, sometimes called Land Lobsters as they are so big (up to 15cm long), are flightless insects from the Phasmid family. Phasmid means phantom because these insects pretend to be something else like a stick or a leaf. The young are bright green and camouflage perfectly amidst the foliage they feed on during the day. As they mature, they become a shiny dark brown colour and only emerge from hiding spots in cracks and crevices at night to feed.

LHISI were once common on Lord Howe Island, apparently they made quite a racket dropping onto the roofs of houses as they came out to feed at night. Sadly, rats travelling with humans by ship arrived on the island in
1918, feeding on the population of LHISI until they were presumed extinct by the 1930s. Hope for their survival was ignited when a party of adventurers discovered the remains of these insects in a bird’s nest on
Ball’s Pyramid in the 1960s. Ball’s Pyramid is a rocky remnant of a volcano in the Tasman Sea, around 620 km from the east coast of Australia. Recent surveys of the Ball’s Pyramid population reveal that only 30 to 40 individuals remain in the wild. In 2003 an expedition set out to recover two breeding pairs of adults. One of these pairs, Adam and Eve, were brought back to Melbourne Zoo to begin a species recovery breeding
program. By July 2012, the 10th generation of these recovered insects hatched at Melbourne Zoo, which means just over 9,000 insects have now been bred in captivity.

St Aug’s has the extraordinary opportunity to raise some of these amazing creatures at school. Mr Hill’s 3/4 class and our resident entomologist (a person who specialises in the study of insects), Pippa Grabham are taking responsibility for their day to day care. However, all members of the school community are invited to take an interest and incorporate this conservation biology experience into their learning. We have been supplied with 10 LHISI eggs. So far 5 have hatched although only three have survived. Our job is to rear the nymphs once they hatch, care for them into adulthood and retrieve any eggs they may lay to be returned to the zoo. Students are also encouraged to monitor the living conditions by recording temperature and humidity and make observations of the insects’ behaviour. This information is regularly sent to Melbourne Zoo to add to their growing body of research into these organisms.

The schools involved in the Melbourne Zoo program share information and keep up to date with each other’s progress through an online Ning community (http://phasmid.ning.com/).

It is hoped that one day the captive bred LHISI will be released back into the wild on Lord Howe Island. To prepare for this, the Lord Howe Island community is actively working to eradicate rats as well as the invasive
Morning Glory weed, which threatens their natural habitat.

Have a look at this wonderful video of a LHISI hatching …
http://vimeo.com/14413689

This a great news story for more info …
http://www.abc.net.au/btn/story/s3469096.htm

By St Augustine's College Kyabram|2017-11-06T17:21:26+10:00April 27th, 2013|0 Comments
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