The tree lobster was thought to have been wiped out from its natural habitat of Lord Howe Island, situated in the South Pacific off Australia. That extinction occurred some 80 years ago when we introduced black rats to the island. They proceeded to eat all the tree lobsters and wipe them out.
However, a tiny island called Ball’s Pyramid is located 13 miles away from Lord Howe Island and was found to house a small colony of the insects. Just 24 in fact. That’s the entire population in the world.
Scientists set about attempting to breed them in captivity to bolster numbers by removing just four (two male/female pairs) from the tiny island. Two died soon after, and the female from the remaining pair almost did, too. But the quick thinking of Melbourne Zoo invertebrate conservation breeding group biologist Patrick Honan saved her life as he formulated a calcium nectar mix she could survive on.
Patrick’s life-saving insect food, combined with an intensive breeding program, means those original 24 tree lobsters on Ball’s Pyramid now have over 700 grandchildren living in captivity. The next problem to overcome is how to reintroduce them to Lord Howe Island.